Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Physical Activity and Healthy Eating in the After-School Environment

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Physical Activity and Healthy Eating in the After-School Environment

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The dramatic increase in the prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents has led to obesity prevention becoming a major national health priority. (1-5) There is now an emerging body of evidence that at least 4 behaviors play a role in positive energy balance and the development of childhood obesity: lack of physical activity (PA), lack of fruit and vegetable consumption, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, and use of television and video games (screen time). (6-14) It is estimated that in the United States, more than 60% of children aged 9-13 years do not participate in any organized PA during their nonschool hours and 23% do not engage in any free-time PA. (1) The data are equally discouraging for healthful eating (HE), with only 20% of children eating the daily recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.

Settings such as schools and after-school programs are ideal for reaching children and adolescents in order to promote HE and PA. (11,15) A number of school-based interventions aimed at promoting HE and/or PA behaviors have been implemented in the past 15 years, (11) with most having positive influences on moderate and vigorous PA (MVPA) and HE and 3 studies having positive impacts on child obesity (MSPAN, (16) Planet Health, (17,18) and El Paso CATCH (19)).

School-based obesity prevention programs, however, face challenges due to a lack of physical education offered in public schools and a focus in the United States on basic educational skills and test scores. Due to the gap in time that exists between parents' working hours and their children's school hours, programs offered after school have been identified as one of the potentially important environments for child and adolescent health promotion efforts and may be a particularly effective place for obesity prevention. (20)

A few investigations have examined the role of after-school programs in preventing obesity and/or promoting healthy behaviors. (21-28) A basic premise of all these programs is that the after-school setting can provide PA and a healthy snack for children who do not engage in these behaviors. Furthermore, after-school programs can also place children in an environment where the opportunities for sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and screen time are limited compared to being home alone. Despite the stated potential for after-school settings in the promotion of MVPA and HE, no study to date has systematically observed the after-school environment to determine the extent to which it does or does not promote MVPA and HE without outside intervention. The current study was designed to evaluate the opportunities offered in after-school for MVPA and HE in the Healthy Opportunities for Physical Activity and Nutrition (HOP'N) after-school project (www.hopnafterschool.org). Behavioral observation methods were used to collect data regarding a variety of child, instructor, and environmental variables important for promoting HE and MVPA. The primary aim of the HOP'N after-school project was to improve the quality of after-school programs to prevent obesity in children.

METHODS

Settings

A community alliance of a local school district, boys and girls club, Cooperative Extension Service, and other community partners in Lawrence, KS, was approached to participate in the larger parent study. The alliance contained 7 program sites, and all sites agreed to participate. The community alliance was selected for a variety of reasons: (1) it was the only one of its kind with multiple community partners, (2) it contained after-school sites within 1.5 hours or less from the Kansas State University research team, and (3) all sites were part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program. The larger parent study was designed as a test of improved PA and nutrition education in the after-school setting for this USDA program.

Participants

A total of 144 third- (n = 26), fourth- (n = 99), fifth- (n = 16), and sixth- (n = 3) grade children had consent from their parents to collect demographic information and to have the research team measure height and weight. …

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