The idea seems like a no-brainer: Create ways for kids to be active, and they’ll lose weight and be healthier. So why aren’t programs designed to get kids moving working?
The problem may be with the programs themselves. A study released today in the British Medical Journal examined 30 previous studies on interventions designed to encourage kids to exercise. Numerous interventions, such as after-school and community programs, have been rolled out in recent years in an attempt to lower childhood obesity numbers in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Those 30 studies, which included 14,326 participants and were published between 2003 and 2011, had a few common features: They included kids 16 and under who took part in programs that lasted at least four weeks. The programs were based in schools, communities and homes. Instead of self-reporting activity, movement was measured objectively and more accurately throughout the entire day via accelerometers.
Researchers found that overall, the interventions produced small to negligible increases in the kids’ total amount of activity, and only small gains in the time they spent doing moderate to vigorous movement.
The accelerometers provided a good glimpse into the programs’ eventual failure: Turns out the boost in activity seem to peter out after a while.
One after-school program, for example, got kids involved in three 90-minute activity sessions a week, with an hour of that being high-intensity activity.
But midway through the program the kids were only doing five extra minutes of walking or running a day, and even that disappeared by the end of the session.
The authors of the study fear that these designed interventions may actually be poor substitutes for more normal activities. For example, instead of attending after-school programs, kids might be playing outside.
The authors of an accompanying editorial say such programs shouldn't be abandoned, but had some advice for researchers planning on designing more interventions: Make sure programs really gets kids moving as they're designed to do, and be certain to roll them out successfully.
Recent studies of more comprehensive programs that include nutrition and education as well as activity seem to be faring better; a report on school-based health programs in Philadelphia found that obesity rates among students have dropped almost 5 percent in the last four years.
What do you think makes children's activity programs successful? Let us know in the comments.