Recess might be all fun and games, but a new study reveals that it’s having an important impact on children.
Between 2006 and 2012, 281 California schools took part in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. Researchers from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health took the data from the program, and used it to compare the participating schools to 709 other schools in the state.
Recently, the findings were published in one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journals, Preventing Chronic Disease.
The researchers found that the more schools made an effort, the healthier the kids were. There were greater reductions in the prevalence of student obesity amongst schools that engaged with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, and that made on-the-ground changes to their policies, like ensuring students have daily recess or physical education, and discouraging candy and sugary foods in classroom celebrations.
If schools enrolled in the program — but failed to actively participate — the prevalence of student obesity remained unchanged.
“It’s not surprising that just signing one’s name to a program doesn’t miraculously result in changes to student health,” said Dr. Kristine Madsen, the study’s lead author. “It actually takes a bit of work on the part of the schools to take advantage of what the program has to offer.”
Fighting childhood obesity is a key part of giving children a healthy future, as overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. By stopping the problem now, children are less likely to become obese adults.
In addition to the researchers’ general finding, the study also provided interesting, specific results. For each additional contact with the program, overweight and obesity rates declined by 0.3%. For each additional year of exposure to a national adviser, schools’ obesity rates declined nearly 2%. For each additional year of training and technical assistance exposure, schools saw a trend towards a 0.5% decline in overweight students, and a 0.4% decline in obesity.
While it might seem like much, Madsen argued the findings significance, explaining, “These percentage points may seem small, but when you look at this from a population level, reducing obesity by these amounts is significant.”