London: A structured physical activity programme at school can improve children`s fitness and decrease body fat, confirms a new study.
Researchers in Switzerland studied 540 seven and 11-year-olds in 15 schools. Over nine months, pupils randomly allocated to an intervention group underwent a physical activity programme designed by experts.
This involved structuring their existing three physical education lessons and adding two extra lessons a week.
They were also given daily short activity breaks and physical activity homework. Pupils randomly allocated to a control group continued to receive their existing three lessons only.
Researchers reported a relative decrease in body fat, improved aerobic fitness, higher levels of in-school physical activity, smaller increases or larger reductions in body mass index (BMI), and lower cardiovascular risk in the intervention group.
However, overall daily physical activity and quality of life did not change significantly.
Ninety percent of the children and 70 percent of the teachers enjoyed the five physical education lessons and wanted them to continue.
The researchers attribute the success of the programme to its use of experts, attractiveness to both children and teachers, intensity, and integration into the school curriculum.
They say the study offers a practical way of implementing a physical activity programme in schools.
This is important since childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease are increasingly common, and many children are not responsive to programmes aimed at increasing out-of-school physical activity, says a release of the British Medical Journal.
As well as improving the health and fitness of children, such programmes can improve health in later life by reducing cardiovascular and other diseases, they conclude.