Objective To assess the effectiveness of a school based physical activity programme during one school year on physical and psychological health in young schoolchildren.
Design Cluster randomised controlled trial.
Setting 28 classes from 15 elementary schools in Switzerland randomly selected and assigned in a 4:3 ratio to an intervention (n=16) or control arm (n=12) after stratification for grade (first and fifth grade), from August 2005 to June 2006.
Participants 540 children, of whom 502 consented and presented at baseline.
Intervention Children in the intervention arm (n=297) received a multi-component physical activity programme that included structuring the three existing physical education lessons each week and adding two additional lessons a week, daily short activity breaks, and physical activity homework. Children (n=205) and parents in the control group were not informed of an intervention group. For most outcome measures, the assessors were blinded.
Main outcome measures Primary outcome measures included body fat (sum of four skinfolds), aerobic fitness (shuttle run test), physical activity (accelerometry), and quality of life (questionnaires). Secondary outcome measures included body mass index and cardiovascular risk score (average z score of waist circumference, mean blood pressure, blood glucose, inverted high density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides).
Results 498 children completed the baseline and follow-up assessments (mean age 6.9 (SD 0.3) years for first grade, 11.1 (0.5) years for fifth grade). After adjustment for grade, sex, baseline values, and clustering within classes, children in the intervention arm compared with controls showed more negative changes in the z score of the sum of four skinfolds (−0.12, 95 % confidence interval −0.21 to −0.03; P=0.009). Likewise, their z scores for aerobic fitness increased more favourably (0.17, 0.01 to 0.32; P=0.04), as did those for moderate-vigorous physical activity in school (1.19, 0.78 to 1.60; P<0.001), all day moderate-vigorous physical activity (0.44, 0.05 to 0.82; P=0.03), and total physical activity in school (0.92, 0.35 to 1.50; P=0.003). Z scores for overall daily physical activity (0.21, −0.21 to 0.63) and physical quality of life (0.42, −1.23 to 2.06) as well as psychological quality of life (0.59, −0.85 to 2.03) did not change significantly.
Conclusions A school based multi-component physical activity intervention including compulsory elements improved physical activity and fitness and reduced adiposity in children.
Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN15360785.