Dr. Terry Huang, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH) and colleagues studied how elementary school design impacted students’ physical activity. The findings were published in the journal PLoS One.
Children spend a significant portion of their days in sedentary behavior and on average fail to engage in adequate physical activity. This research team studied how the school built environment may influence sedentary behavior and physical activity. This study was a natural experiment that evaluated whether an elementary school designed to promote movement impacted students’ school-time sedentary behavior and physical activity.
The team used accelerometers to measure sedentary behavior and physical activity at pre and post time-points in an intervention group who moved to the new school (n = 21) and in a comparison group experiencing no school environmental change (n = 20). Difference-in-difference analysis examined sedentary behavior and physical activity outcomes in these groups. Measures were also collected post-intervention from an independent, grade-matched group of students in the new school (n = 21).
As expected, maturational increases in sedentary behavior were observed. However, difference-in-difference analysis estimated that the intervention attenuated increase in sedentary behavior by 81.2 ± 11.4 minutes/day, controlling for time in moderate to vigorous physical activity. The intervention was also estimated to increase daily number of breaks from sedentary behavior by 23.4 ± 2.6 minutes/day and to increase light physical activity by 67.7 ± 10.7 minutes/day. However, the intervention decreased moderate to vigorous physical activity by 10.3 ± 2.3 minutes/day. Results of grade-matched independent samples analysis were similar, with students in the new vs. old school spending 90.5 ± 16.1 fewer minutes/day in sedentary behavior, taking 21.1 ± 2.7 more breaks from sedentary behavior, and spending 64.5 ± 14.8 more minutes in light physical activity, controlling for time in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Students in the new school spent 13.1 ± 2.7 fewer minutes in moderate to vigorous physical activity than their counterparts in the old school. All the findings were statistically significant.
This pilot study found that active school design had beneficial effects on sedentary behavior and light physical activity, but not on moderate to vigorous physical activity. Mixed results point to a need for active classroom design strategies to mitigate sedentary behavior, and quick access from classrooms to areas permissive of high-intensity activities to promote moderate to vigorous physical activity. Integrating active design with programs/policies to promote physical activity may yield greatest impact on physical activity of all intensities.