Background: Physical inactivity is recognised as a public health concern within children and interventions to increase physical activity are needed. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the effect of a school-based healthy lifestyles intervention on physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, body composition, knowledge, and psychological variables.
Method: A non-randomised controlled study involving 8 primary schools (4 intervention, 4 control). Participants were 589 children aged 7-11 years. The intervention lasted 10 months and comprised a CD-rom learning and teaching resource for teachers; an interactive website for pupils, teachers and parents; two highlight physical activity events (1 mile school runs/walks); a local media campaign; and a summer activity wall planner and record. Primary outcome measures were objectively measured physical activity (pedometers and accelerometers) and fruit and vegetable consumption. Secondary outcomes included body mass index, waist circumference, estimated percent body fat, knowledge, psychological variables. Multi-level modelling was employed for the data analysis.
Results: Relative to children in control schools, those in intervention schools significantly increased their total time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) (by 9 minutes/day vs a decrease of 10 minutes/day), their time in MVPA bouts lasting at least one minute (10 minutes/day increase vs no change) and increased daily steps (3059 steps per day increase vs 1527 steps per day increase). A similar pattern of results was seen in a subset of the least active participants at baseline. Older participants in intervention schools showed a significant slowing in the rate of increase in estimated percent body fat, BMI, and waist circumference. There were no differences between groups in fruit and vegetable intake. Extrinsic motivation decreased more in the intervention group.
Conclusion: The intervention produced positive changes in physical activity levels and body composition. It appeared to have little or no effect on consumption of fruit and vegetables. Schools are a suitable setting for the promotion of healthy lifestyles although more work, particularly focussed on dietary change, is needed in a variety of schools and social settings.