Action Schools! BC: Increasing children’s activity levels

10 February 2010

Much is being made of the 2010 Winter Olympics and their ability to inspire youth and adults to greater physical activity and healthy living. This is definitely a good thing, because research shows that BC school children are at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) due, in part, to a lack of physical activity. In fact, in 2007 Action Schools! BC (AS!BC) reported that 58 percent of BC elementary school children had at least one elevated risk factor for CVD.

But there is a solution, and Lindsay Nettlefold and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research are part of it. Lindsay was funded as a Research Trainee from 2007 through 2009 by MSFHR to work on the AS!BC program, a school-based physical activity model that has been proven effective in a phase I pilot study to improve the CVD risk profile of our elementary school children.

"Action Schools BC helps schools develop individual action plans," Lindsay said. "There are six action zones that schools can pick and choose from to develop their own plans. My primary investigation is looking at the levels of fitness and physical activity over the two year roll-out period."

So just what is involved in increasing children's levels of physical activity? "One of the components of AS!BC is increased classroom activity – an extra 15 minutes of physical activity a day which could be done in a number of ways, even between classes," Lindsay says. "There are guidelines for physical activity that have been made by a number of organizations regarding activity levels for school children. Among them is the recommendation that 40 percent of students' time during recess breaks, and 50 percent of physical education class, be spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity. What we found, as a baseline, is that most kids aren't meeting those levels," she said.

The baseline data have shown a gender difference, with girls demonstrating less physical activity during the school day than their male counterparts, and fewer girls than boys meeting physical activity guidelines during recess breaks.

While data from the two year program are still being evaluated, there is every indication that the AS!BC program is effective. Results from the pilot project showed that children randomized to the intervention group – the group that had increased physical activity during the school day – had a 20 percent greater increase in fitness than children in the control group over a one year period.

"Action Schools BC is about getting kids into habits for healthy living," Lindsay says. "Working with the Action Schools BC enables me to be involved in the bigger picture of health promotion."