The prevalence of childhood obesity is increasing at an alarming rate. Many local governments have enacted policies to increase physical activity in schools as a way to combat childhood obesity. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine the effect of school-based physical activity interventions on body mass index (BMI) in children.
We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials up to September 2008. We also hand-searched relevant journals and article reference lists. We included randomized controlled trials and controlled clinical trials that had objective data for BMI from before and after the intervention, that involved school-based physical activity interventions and that lasted for a minimum of 6 months.
Of 398 potentially relevant articles that we identified, 18 studies involving 18 141 children met the inclusion criteria. The participants were primarily elementary school children. The study duration ranged from 6 months to 3 years. In 15 of these 18 studies, there was some type of co-intervention. Meta-analysis showed that BMI did not improve with physical activity interventions (weighted mean difference –0.05 kg/m2, 95% confidence interval –0.19 to 0.10). We found no consistent changes in other measures of body composition.
School-based physical activity interventions did not improve BMI, although they had other beneficial health effects. Current population-based policies that mandate increased physical activity in schools are unlikely to have a significant effect on the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity.