Context: Evidence suggests chronic physical activity (PA) participation may be both protective against the onset of and beneficial for reducing depressive symptoms.
Objective: The aim of this article is to assess the impact of PA interventions on depression in children and adolescents using meta-analysis.
Data sources: Published English language studies were located from manual and computerized searches of the following databases: PsycInfo, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Trials Register of Promoting Health Interventions (TRoPHI; EPPI Centre), Web of Science and MEDLINE.
Study selection: Studies meeting inclusion criteria (1) reported on interventions to promote or increase PA; (2) included children aged 5-11 years and/or adolescents aged 12-19 years; (3) reported on results using a quantitative measure of depression; (4) included a non-physical control or comparison group; and (5) were published in peer-reviewed journals written in English, up to and including May 2011 (when the search was conducted).
Data extraction: Studies were coded for methodological, participant and study characteristics. Comprehensive Meta-Analysis version-2 software was used to compute effect sizes, with subgroup analyses to identify moderating characteristics. Study quality was assessed using the Delphi technique.
Results: Nine studies were included (n = 581); most were school-based randomized controlled trials, randomized by individual. Studies used a variety of measurement tools to assess depressive symptoms. The summary treatment effect was small but significant (Hedges' g = -0.26, standard error = 0.09, 95% confidence intervals = -0.43, -0.08, p = 0.004). Subgroup analyses showed that methodological (e.g. studies with both education and PA intervention; those with a higher quality score; and less than 3 months in duration) and participant characteristics (e.g. single-gender studies; those targeting overweight or obese groups) contributed most to the reduction in depression.
Conclusions: There was a small significant overall effect for PA on depression. More outcome-focused, high-quality trials are required to effectively inform the implementation of programmes to reduce depressive symptoms in children and adolescents.