Do physically active lessons improve pupil engagement?

A study published in Health Education and Behavior looks at the effects of introducing physically active lessons into primary school classes. Emma Norris and colleagues used the Virtual Traveller (VT) intervention to evaluate whether physically active lessons had any effect on pupil engagement, physical activity and on-task behaviour.

Virtual Traveller is a programme of pre-prepared physically active lesson sessions delivered using classroom interactive whiteboards during regular lessons. A total of 219 children aged 8- to 9-years-old from 10 schools in Greater London took part in the cluster-randomised controlled trial. Children in the intervention schools received 10-minute VT sessions three times a week, for six weeks, during maths and English lessons. To assess the effectiveness of VT, pupils’ physical activity levels, on-task behaviour and engagement were measured at baseline (T0), at weeks two (T1) and four  (T2) of the six-week intervention, and at one week (T3) and three months (T4) post-intervention.

Pupils in the intervention group showed more on-task behaviour than those in the control at T1 and T2, but this was not maintained post-intervention. No difference in pupil engagement between the control and intervention groups was observed at any time point. VT was found to increase physical activity, but only during lesson time.

Source: Physically active lessons improve lesson activity and on-task behavior: a cluster-randomized controlled trial of the “Virtual Traveller” intervention (March 2018), Health Education & Behavior DOI: 10.1177/1090198118762106

Study shows benefits of Healthy Harlem programme

Mathematica Policy Research posted a new research brief that summarises findings from a study of Healthy Harlem, an after-school programme aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles. The study, by James Mabli, Martha Bleeker and Mary Kay Fox, showed that participation in the Healthy Harlem programme led to increased physical activity and improved weight status for overweight and obese pupils.

Key components of Healthy Harlem include physical activity, healthy snacks, nutrition education lessons and parent workshops. To assess Healthy Harlem’s effectiveness, the authors monitored pupils at 21 after-school sites during an initial baseline year and then measured programme impacts after two and three years of participation. They collected data through a pupil survey, a fitness test and direct measurements of height and weight. Key findings were as follows:

  • A 5.5 percent decrease in mean BMI z-scores after two years of participation and a 9.0 percent decrease after three years of participation. According to the report, a BMI z-score reflects the number of standard deviations a pupil’s BMI is from the mean BMI for a reference population.
  • A decrease of 12.2 percentage points in the percentage of pupils who were overweight or obese after two years, and a decrease of 18.4 percentage points after three years.
  • An increase in the percentage of pupils considered to be within the Harlem Fitness Zone, a measure of fitness based on a pupil’s ability to complete a minimum number of laps, defined for age-and-gender subgroups.

Source: The impact of Healthy Harlem on the body mass index and weight status of adolescents after two and three Years (March 2018), Mathematica Policy Research

Baby simulators lead to tears

A study by Sally Brinkman and colleagues presents the first randomised controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of infant simulator programmes on teenage pregnancy in Australia.

The Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme uses dolls that mimic the need of a baby in terms of feeding and diaper changing through crying, and are meant to show the challenges of looking after a real baby. The infant simulators were given to 1,567 girls aged 13 to 15 years old in the intervention group (28 schools), while 1,267 girls of the same age in the control group (29 schools) received the standard health education curriculum. Participants were followed until they were age 20 via data linkage to medical records.

The study showed that the infant simulator programme did not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls. Compared with girls in the control group, a higher proportion of girls in the intervention group recorded at least one birth: 97 (8%) of 1,267 girls in the intervention group vs. 67 (4%) of 1,567 girls in the control group. After adjusting for potential confounders, girls in the intervention group actually had a higher overall pregnancy risk than those in the control group (relative risk 1.36).

Source: Efficacy of Infant Simulator Programmes to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy: A School-based Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial in Western Australia (2016), The Lancet

Teenage onset obesity linked to school dropout

A new article in the Journal of School Health has shown that becoming obese during early adolescence increases the risk of school dropout.

Data on 5,066 children was obtained from the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, a longitudinal project that follows a sample of people in the US born between 1957 and 1964. Each wave of assessment included participants’ obesity status (BMI) and school enrollment status.

The study identified four trajectories of obesity from ages 6 to 18: (1) A non-obese group, (2) a chronically obese group with individuals who were obese in both childhood and adolescence, (3) decreasing trajectory (childhood-only obesity), and (4) increasing trajectory (adolescent-onset obesity). Adolescents belonging to the increasing trajectory group (adolescent-onset obesity) had a higher likelihood of dropping out of high school compared with those belonging to the other three groups.

The authors conclude that adolescent-onset obesity is a unique contributor to school failure. Although the reasons for this are unknown, they suggest that the high significance placed on social status during early adolescence combined with significant physiological changes as a result of puberty may have an especially adverse impact on those becoming obese during this transitional period. They also suggest that becoming obese during adolescence (as opposed to childhood) may be a disadvantage due to having less time to develop adaptive coping strategies.

The study also showed ethnicity playing a significant role, with white teenagers who become obese during adolescence particularly vulnerable to school dropout. The report suggests this may be explained by greater social stigma being placed on white versus African-American or Latino adolescents becoming obese.

Source: Is Obesity Associated With School Dropout? Key Developmental and Ethnic Differences (2015), Journal of School Health, 85(10).

Childhood bullying leads to ill health as an adult

The effects of bullying last well into adulthood, according to a study in Psychological Medicine.

The authors used data from the National Child Development Study, which followed more than 17,000 people born in 1958. Parents were asked whether their children had been bullied when they were aged 7 and 11. When these children then reached 45, they were tested for various health markers focusing on obesity and inflammatory processes, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). Raised levels of CRP have been linked to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

At age 45, study participants who had experienced bullying victimisation had higher levels of inflammation than their non-bullied peers, and women who had been bullied were more likely to be obese. The findings were independent of the effects of correlated childhood risks (such as parental social class and childhood BMI) and key adult risk factors (such as smoking and diet).

Bullying has previously been shown to have an impact on adult mental health. The authors argue that these findings showing an impact on physical health add impetus to the importance of early intervention to stop bullying activity.

Source: Bullying Victimization in Childhood Predicts Inflammation and Obesity at Mid-life: A Five-decade Birth Cohort Study (2015), Psychological Medicine.

Mediating media

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics explores parental monitoring of children’s media use. It examines its effects on physical, social, and academic outcomes, and the links between monitoring children’s media use and a wide range of these outcomes.

A total of 1,323 children aged 8-11 from ten schools in Iowa and Minnesota were recruited to participate. The authors collected data at the beginning and end of one school year from home and school surveys, and from a primary caregiver and teacher for each child. Measures included health (height, weight, BMI), as well as demographics, parental monitoring of media, total screen time, media violence exposure, school performance, and well-being.

The study revealed that increased parental monitoring was correlated with a reduction in children’s total screen time, which in turn resulted in more sleep. More monitoring was also correlated with improved school performance, increased pro-social behaviour, and lower aggressive behaviour.

Exposure to media violence predicted lower pro-social behaviour and higher aggressive behaviour. Increased parental monitoring was correlated with less exposure to media violence, which in turn was correlated with increased pro-social behaviour and decreased aggressive behaviour. The researchers controlled for parental education, marital status, child gender, and minority status.

Although the American Association of Pediatrics makes a number of general recommendations on total screen time, the authors suggest it may be useful for parents to know that there are four types of parental monitoring: co-viewing with the child; restricting amount of time; restricting the types of content; and actively discussing the meaning and effects of media content with children (active mediation).

Source: Protective Effects of Parental Monitoring of Children’s Media Use: A Prospective Study (2014), JAMA Pediatrics, 168(5).