Exercise as it relates to Disease/Measuring Physical Activity within Schools

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Measuring Physical Activity within Schools

This Wikibooks page is an analysis and factsheet of “The Association of School Environments with Youth Physical Activity"[1]

Unstimulating School Environment

What is the background to this research?[edit]

The prevalence of physical inactivity of youth is a growing concern in society, leading to potentially life threatening diseases later in life[2]. Various studies have examined the lack of physical activity levels of school-aged children, but few within a school setting[3]. School environments and playgrounds are an integral setting in which children can engage in physical activity, as children spend more than one-sixth of the school day in lunch and short breaks [3]. Physical activity guidelines in Australia recommend that at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity is ideal for youth aged 5-18 years[4]. Thus, the school lunchtime provides the most extended period for youth to be active, providing the best opportunity to observe and measure physical activity levels[3].

The objectives of this study were to explore and compare the physical activity levels in school aged children by the interaction of environmental characteristics and teacher supervision[1]. Identifying environmental correlates of student physical activity could facilitate interventions that benefit all children at school. Proposing that schools have adequate space, facilities, equipment and supervision can therefore stimulate students to be more physically active[1].

Where is the research from?[edit]

The research was conducted across twenty-four public middle schools in San Diego, California for the American Journal of Public Health. The combined six authors of the article share professional interest in public health, exercise and nutrition.

What kind of research was this?[edit]

The study was conducted as a randomised control trial in twenty-four public middle schools, grades 6-8. Each school was observed on three randomly scheduled days with fair weather conditions during three time periods: before school, during lunch and after school.

What did the research involve?[edit]

The research involved critical observation by trained assessors using SOPLAY (System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth) to code the number of participants and their activity levels. Students were coded as sedentary, walking or very active. Environmental variables involved area type, including court space, open field space and indoor activity space, area size and permanent improvements. The presence of supervision was also recorded as well as the availability of equipment. This methodology may not be the most accurate approach as assessors perception of coding activities may be perceived differently. In an article examining the validity of the SOPLAY measure, it suggests that one way to increase the accuracy is through the addition of heart rate monitors [5]. The results from the heart rate monitors would support the coding behaviours of individuals by identifying when heart rate was resting (sedentary) to elevated (very active) [5].

What were the basic results?[edit]

Significant measures found that both girls and boys across the year groups were more physically active with improvements made to school environments. Additionally, increased teacher supervision positively influenced students to be more involved in physical activity. The results were divided into three categories to further break down the quantity of data.

  • Area type x supervision
  • Area type x equipment
  • Supervision x improvements

Girls and boys showed similar results across these categories. Physical activity levels were positively correlated with high supervision, more availability of equipment both indoor and outdoor and when there were improvements made to the playground. The mean number of permanent improvements was 66.6% per school. The most common improvements were made to basketball hoops and courts, volleyball nets and tennis courts. An article examining similar physical activity interactions also supports this evidence indicating that a greater proportion of children engaged in vigorous physical activity where loose equipment and playing equipment such as monkey bars and climbing frames or teacher supervision was present [6].

What conclusions can we take from this research?[edit]

Appealing School Environment

The main findings of this study signify that realistic improvements to school environments and adult supervision are key in increasing physical activity in youth. When equipment was widely available for indoor and outdoor areas and adult supervision was high, the percentage of physically active boys and girls was 4-5-fold higher than when the school environment was deficient in both. In addition to physical activity levels, various literature signifies that within school settings children's nutrition is just as important. Thus, strategies implementing low fat, high fiber foods rather than high fat, high sugar foods also needs to be further supported to influence positive lifestyle habits.

Practical advice[edit]

Although this study indicates that improvements to school environments and increased supervision can increase physical activity, it may not be practical for several schools due to various expenses as well as lacking available space. In the absence of this, more emphasis and involvement on organised group activities and games that are non-competitive, such as Zumba, modified bootcamp and handball games during lunch hours may be more beneficial. Offering options for active play would also appeal more broadly to children of varying interests and abilities. This would also create greater supervision of children as staff participation would increase. Physical activity should be fun and enjoyable, thus creating environments with structured classes may boost participation of children. An article examining children and preadolescents physical activity during school breaks further supports this initiative, signifying that organised sports and activities have many benefits and overall increase participation rates of students [7].

Further information/resources[edit]

For further information on the affects of school environments and children's physical activity involvement, please click the links below:


  1. a b c Sallis, James, et al. (2001) The Association of School Environments with Youth Physical Activity, American Journal of Public Health vol 91, pp 618-620
  2. Ebbeling, Cara. et al. (2002) Childhood Obesity: Public-Health Crisis, Common Sense Cure. The Lancet vol 330 pp 473-482
  3. a b c Lisa, Willenberg. et al. (2010) Increasing School Playground Physical Activity: A Mixed Methods Study Combining Environmental Measures and Children's Perspectives. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport vol 13 pp 210-216
  4. Janssen, Ian. (2007) Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Youth. Canadian Public Health Association vol 32 pp 109-121
  5. a b McKenzie, Thomas. (2006) System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth Description and Procedures Manual, Department of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences pp 1-7
  6. Willenberg, Lisa, et al. (2010) Increasing school playground physical activity: A mixed methods study combining environmental measures and children’s perspectives. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport vol 13 pp 210-216
  7. Pediatrics, (2001), Organized Sports for Children and Preadolescents, American Academy of Pediatrics vol 107 pp 1459-1462