We all know that childhood obesity is on the rise. And one would think that adding more sports and physical activity programs at school and after school would help reduce that. But according to a new study, it’s not. In fact, not only are these programs failing to help kids maintain a healthy weight, they are failing to get them moving at all. How can that be?
Presented in the BMJ, researchers tabulated results from 30 different studies to evaluate the effectiveness of after-school exercise clubs, PE classes and other sports programs. Throughout the study, over 14,000 kids were monitored by wearing accelerometers (or motion sensors) and filling out questionnaires.
What they found was frustrating: these programs are not working at increasing overall physical activity. The researchers categorized the effect as “small to negligible” for increased movement throughout the day and only noted an increase of four minutes per day for those who were involved in higher-intensity programs, like brisk walking or running.
That doesn’t seem like it could be correct, right? After all, if schools increase their PE and more after-school sports programs are offered, it seems logical that they would have a direct correlation on exercise and thus childhood obesity rates. But the researchers offered one of two explanations for this: Either the kids are participating but not really participating (meaning, they may be present on the soccer field, but too lazy to really be working out), or they are using this additional exercise as an excuse to not be active throughout the rest of the day (oh, I walked a mile this morning, so I can sit on the computer after school).
Either way, it’s disappointing that these programs are not getting kids more active. To fix this, the kids, the schools, the parents and the sports directors need to realize that the solution is not to simply put kids outside with a ball. How many times have you seen a PE class at school where the kids are simply walking around the field with no structured play or instruction? At our school, students get credit simply for “dressing out”–not mastering the skills of particular sports and games. And we’ve all seen after-school programs where the kids seem less than engaged, like the kid on the soccer team who would rather sit on the bench and drink Gatorade than run around the field. Parents need to have a hand in this too. Just because a child played during or after school, doesn’t mean they should be inactive the rest of the day.
Even if the direct goal is not to reduce childhood obesity for some, daily physical activity has so many other physical and mental benefits. Remember, the CDC recommends all kids get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day…and yet, nearly 75% of them don’t. It’s about quantity and quality.