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Study: Students Get Most Physical Activity at School, But It’s Not Enough

By Bryan Toporek — December 11, 2015 2 min read
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Adolescents engage in most of their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at school, but they’re still falling short of the recommended amount of daily MVPA, according to a study published online Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans say all children and adolescents should engage in at least one hour of daily MVPA, but only half of youths actually meet that recommendation, according to a 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine. To track where students were most active, this study’s authors analyzed data from 549 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16, using accelerometers and GPS devices to track the amount of time they spent in MVPA in five locations of interest (at home, near home, at school, near school, and all other locations).

The study participants had a mean of 39.4 minutes of daily MVPA across all locations, with 55.2 percent of those minutes on school days and 42.4 percent throughout the week occurring at school. During non-school days, the at-home location (37.4 percent) and “other locations” (34.3 percent) represented the highest percentage of MVPA. Students also spent the largest portion of their walking time at school (42.1 percent), followed by at home (27.7 percent), other locations (14.1 percent), near home (12.6 percent) and near school (3.5 percent).

Considering how much of their MVPA occurred at school, it should come as little surprise that students had significantly more MVPA (a mean of 42.0 minutes) on school days compared to non-school days (32.1 minutes). On non-school days, most of youths’ MVPA came either at home (12.0 minutes) or at other locations (11.0 minutes).

When factoring in how much time the youths spent at each location, the proportion of overall time spent engaging in MVPA was highest in the near-home and near-school locations (9.5 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively, throughout the week). During school days, the proportion of time spent physically active compared to overall time was the lowest at school (4.8 percent), which led the study authors to recommend an increase in physical-activity time at schools.

“Because adolescents spend so much time at school, even a small increase in the proportion of at-school time spent physically active could lead to meaningful increases in overall physical activity and metabolic health,” they wrote. The authors also dubbed the home neighborhood and school neighborhood (to a lesser extent) as “promising locations for supporting increases in physical activity because a greater proportion of time spent in these locations was physically active.”

That conclusion echoes the 2013 Institute of Medicine report, which called for a majority of students’ MVPA to come during school hours. It recommended 10-20 minutes of daily MVPA coming during high-quality physical-education classes, but noted other sources needed to contribute to reach the 60-minute threshold, such as recess, designated classroom-activity breaks, and before- and after-school activities such as intramural or extracurricular sports.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.