Purpose: School physical education (PE) is highly recommended as a means of promoting physical activity, and randomized studies of health-related PE interventions in middle schools have not been reported. We developed, implemented, and assessed an intervention to increase physical activity during middle-school PE classes.
Methods: Twenty-four middle schools (approximately 25,000 students, 45% nonwhite) in Southern California participated in a randomized trial. Schools were assigned to intervention (N = 12) or control (N = 12) conditions, and school was the unit of analysis. A major component of the intervention was a 2-yr PE program, which consisted of curricular materials, staff development, and on-site follow-up. Control schools continued usual programs. Student activity and lesson context were observed in 1849 PE lessons using a validated instrument during baseline and intervention years 1 and 2.
Results: The intervention significantly (P = 0.02) improved student moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in PE, by approximately 3 min per lesson. Effects were cumulative; by year 2 intervention schools increased MVPA by 18%. Effect sizes were greater for boys (d = 0.98; large) than girls (d = 0.68; medium).
Conclusions: A standardized program increased MVPA in middle schools without requiring an increase in frequency or duration of PE lessons. Program components were well received by teachers and have the potential for generalization to other schools. Additional strategies may be needed for girls.