A year-long study into the effects of increased physical activity at school has shown that children's fitness levels and body composition do improve with daily participation in sport -- and particularly so for children from deprived backgrounds, according to a presentation at the European Society of Cardiology's Congress 2010 in Stockholm.
Obesity among children and young people continues to rise across Europe and brings with it the very real risk of increased blood pressure, higher blood-fat values and impaired glucose tolerance. Nearly 20 percent of European schoolchildren are regarded as overweight, and it is estimated that almost half of them will progress through to adulthood as obese.
There is strong evidence that socio-economic factors and educational status have a significant bearing on cardiovascular risk. Deprived families often lead unhealthy lifestyles, characterised by smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity, which in turn leads to an increase in cardiovascular risk. Set against this context, a team from the Heart Center at the University of Leipzig wanted to find out if greater participation in sport at school would have a positive effect on children from different socio-educational backgrounds. Doctor Katharina Machalica of the University of Leipzig explains, "We wanted to see if increasing physical activity from two sessions to five sessions a week would have an impact on children's cardiopulmonary fitness, body mass index, cardiovascular risk and co-ordination skills."
The study compared children from two schools in Brandis, Germany. The first school was regarded as having a higher socio-educational status (HSES), with students typically going on to university. The second school was regarded as having a lower socio-educational status (LSES), with students typically opting out of education after they obtain their secondary school certificate.
In total, 256 students took part in the study 163 HSES students (58 percent female) and 93 LSES students (55 percent female). At both schools, classes were divided into "interventional" and "control" groups. The control groups attended the usual two lessons per week of sport, while the interventional groups increased this to five lessons per week at one lesson per day. Various measurements were taken at the beginning of the study and again one year later. These included weight, height, body mass index (BMI), fat-free mass and body-fat mass. Tests were also performed on co-ordinative abilities and cardiopulmonary fitness. Data on the educational status of each child's parents was also collected.
At the start of the study, LSES students in general had a higher BMI, less fat-free mass and less-developed co-ordinative skills compared to HSES students. Their running capacity was also less compared to the HSES students. At the end of the year-long study, the intervention groups had decreased their BMI by a greater amount than the control groups -- with LSES students in particular showing a bigger increase in fat-free mass compared to their HSES counterparts. Furthermore, LSES students significantly improved their co-ordination skills, and cardiopulmonary fitness also increased by a relatively higher rate.
Consequently, this study appears to show that school-based intervention can have significant health benefits for children especially those with a lower socio-educational background, who are typically at greater risk of developing cardiovascular problems.
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