Research Study Abstract

School Practices, Economic Disparities, and Objectively Measured MVPA during School in Children Aged 8-13

  • Presented on February 26 2013

Background and Purpose Schools are an important setting for providing physical activity opportunities, but children’s physical activity varies drastically across schools. Identifying specific school practices that are related to children’s physical activity during school could inform policies and interventions.

Objectives To investigate the relation of elementary school physical activity practices to 1) school economic status and 2) children’s moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during school.

Methods Children (N=172) aged 8-13 from 97 elementary schools in the San Diego, CA and Seattle, WA areas wore accelerometers for 1-7 school days. Mean age was 10.2 (SD=1.5), 51.7% of participants were girls, 30.8% were non-white or Latino, 63.8% had a parent with a college degree, and 27.3% were obese or overweight. Minutes/day of MVPA during school was calculated for each participant using school day start and end times specific to each school. A 10-item survey of school practices related to physical activity was completed by a PE teacher or principal if there was no PE teacher. T-tests were used to investigate school practices and economic status, measured by percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL). Multilevel regression models were used to investigate school practices and MVPA, controlling for age, gender and city.

Results The average percent of students eligible for FRPL at the schools surveyed was 30.8 (SD=24.5). As shown in Table 1, FRPL eligibility (indicating lower economic status) was significantly higher at schools with no PE teacher (Mean=41.1% vs. 22.9%; p<.05). There were nonsignificant trends where FRPL eligibility was higher at schools with larger PE class sizes, no PE teacher, no training on MVPA, larger recess class sizes, classroom teachers supervising recess, and no activities provided during recess. Participants engaged in an average of 28.4 (SD=15.9) minutes/day of MVPA during school. As shown in Table 2, having a PE teacher was significantly related to 9 more minutes/day of MVPA during school (p<.05). Four other school practices were related to more minutes/day of MVPA, but findings were not significant: longer PE (B=+1.0 minutes/day) and recess classes (B=+3.1 minutes/day), recess supervised by someone other than a classroom teacher (i.e., paraprofessional or volunteer) (B=+4.1 minutes/day), and activities provided during recess (B=+1.4 minutes/day). Having a smaller class size in PE (B=-1.1 minutes/day) and recess (B=-2.6 minutes/day), offering training covering MVPA in PE (B=-1.4 minutes/day), and using strategies to increase MVPA in PE (B=-5.0 minutes/day) were related to fewer minutes of MVPA, but not significantly. However, of the 26 schools (27%) that did not have a PE teacher, only 12% offered training on MVPA in PE, and 24% used strategies to increase MVPA in PE.

Conclusions The most important finding was that students in schools with PE teachers were physically active for 9 more minutes/day during school than those in schools where classroom teachers taught PE. Understandably, schools of poorer economic status were much less likely to have a PE teacher. Thus, adding or retaining PE teachers or finding ways to better train classroom teachers to teach active PE may help reduce disparities in physical activity and obesity. Although we did not find other practices to be significantly related to MVPA or economic disparities, most findings were in the expected direction. Holding recess sessions of at least 20 minutes, offering activities during recess, and having someone other than classroom teachers supervise recess appear to have positive influences on children’s MVPA during school. Bigger class sizes in PE and recess were slightly positively related to MVPA, but these findings are contrary to those of previous studies. Further investigation is needed to understand why MVPA training and strategies were negatively related to MVPA in this sample.

Presented at

Active Living Research 2013 Annual Conference


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