Long-Term Effects of 4-Year Longitudinal School-Based Physical Activity Intervention on the Physical Fitness of Children and Youth during 7-Year Follow-Up Assessment

By Jurak, Gregor; Cooper, Ashley et al. | Central European Journal of Public Health, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Long-Term Effects of 4-Year Longitudinal School-Based Physical Activity Intervention on the Physical Fitness of Children and Youth during 7-Year Follow-Up Assessment


Jurak, Gregor, Cooper, Ashley, Leskosek, Bojan, Kovac, Marjeta, Central European Journal of Public Health


SUMMARY

Many school-based physical activity (PA) interventions have been developed, but only a few have assessed their long-term effects. A PA inter-vention taking place in the first four years of some Slovenian primary schools entails an enhanced physical education (PE) curriculum, including two extra lessons of PE per week, a wider selection of PE content, and additional outdoor education delivered by both a specialist PE teacher and a general teacher. The effects of the intervention on children's physical fitness (motor tasks and anthropometry) were evaluated within a quasi-experimental study. In total, 324 children from nine Slovenian primary schools either received the enhanced curriculum (intervention (n=160)) or standard PE (control (n=164)), and were followed for a four-year intervention period and seven years post intervention. Data from the SLOFIT database were used to compare differences in the physical fitness of children each year. Linear Mixed Models were used to test the influence of the PA intervention.

Over an 11-year period, the PA intervention group significantly differed in all motor tasks, but not in anthropometric measures or body mass index, after controlling for year of measurement and sex. Differences between the control and intervention groups decreased with time.

This study highlights the importance of tracking the long term effects of PA interventions. PA intervention in the first four years of Slovenian primary school offers the possibility of improving physical performance in children; initiatives aiming to increase their performance (physical fitness, physical activity) and health outcomes are warranted.

Key words: school prevention programmes, physical education, physical development, childhood obesity, motor performance, long-term effects

INTRODUCTION

Poor physical fitness in childhood and adolescence is associ-ated with many preventable diseases in adulthood, and represents a serious current and future public health problem (1). Regular physical activity (PA) can lead to improvements in numerous physiological and morphological variables in children and ado-lescents (2) and forms the basis for many interventions (3-11). Schools have been a popular setting for such interventions, as they offer continuous, intensive contact with children, and the school infrastructure and physical environment, policies, curricula, and staff have the potential to positively influence children's health. There are many school-based PA intervention programmes throughout the world, differing in setting, duration and content. Reviews of these intervention programmes (3,5,6, 10, 11) show that school-based PA intervention programmes may help children and adolescents attain a higher PA level and a healthy weight, but the results are inconsistent and short-term.

Many school-based PA interventions have been based upon physical education (PE) classes (5, 6), since PE serves both to prepare students to be physically educated persons, teaching them the importance of regular PA for health and building skills that support active lifestyles (12-15), and promotes motor development and physical fitness which are closely related to children's cognitive and emotional-social development (16-18). One such PA intervention programme has been delivered in Slovenia since 1984, and is currently offered by 7% of primary schools (19). The intervention comprises extra volume and quality of PE, offering extra time spent in PE, enhanced delivery and a greater range of opportunities for outdoor physical activities and sports. The programme is carried out with the permission of the school council, and the organisation and contents supplement the curriculum.

One of the important outcomes of such school-based PA interventions is the programme's potential influence on the physical fitness of children. Previous studies (20-23) have shown the positive effects of such a PA intervention in Slovenian schools on the physical fitness of children, yet all these studies were limited to assessing physical fitness at the end of intervention and did not explore longer term maintenance of fitness changes. …

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