Changing the School Environment to Increase Physical Activity in Children




We examined the hypothesis that elementary school-age children will be more physically active while attending school in a novel, activity-permissive school environment compared to their traditional school environment. Twenty-four children were monitored with a single-triaxial accelerometer worn on the thigh. The students attended school in three different environments: traditional school with chairs and desks, an activity-permissive environment, and finally their traditional school with desks which encouraged standing. Data from the school children were compared with another group of age-matched children (n = 16) whose physical activity was monitored during summer vacation. When children attended school in their traditional environment, they moved an average (mean ± s.d.) of 71 ± 0.4 m/s2. When the children attended school in the activity-permissive environment, they moved an average of 115 ± 3 m/s2. The children moved 71 ± 0.7 m/s2 while attending the traditional school with standing desks. Children moved significantly more while attending school in the activity-permissive environment compared to the amount that they moved in either of the traditional school environments (P < 0.0001 for both). Comparing children's activity while they were on summer vacation (113 ± 8 m/s2) to school-bound children in their traditional environment showed significantly more activity for the children on summer vacation (P < 0.0001). The school children in the activity-permissive environment were as active as children on summer vacation. Children will move more in an activity-permissive environment. Strategies to increase the activity of school children may involve re-designing the school itself.