Although school-based interventions to promote physical activity in adolescents have been suggested in several recent reviews, questions have been raised regarding the effects of the strategies and the methodology applied and for whom the interventions are effective. The aim of the present study was to investigate effects of a school-based intervention program: the HEalth in Adolescents (HEIA) study, on change in physical activity, and furthermore, to explore whether potential effects varied by gender, weight status, initial physical activity level and parental education level.
This was a cluster randomized controlled 20 month intervention study which included 700 11-year-olds. Main outcome-variable was mean count per minute (cpm) derived from ActiGraph accelerometers (Model 7164/GT1M). Weight and height were measured objectively. Adolescents reported their pubertal status in a questionnaire and parents reported their education level on the consent form. Linear mixed models were used to test intervention effects and to account for the clustering effect of sampling by school.
The present study showed an intervention effect on overall physical activity at the level of p = 0.05 with a net effect of 50 cpm increase from baseline to post intervention in favour of the intervention group (95% CI −0.4, 100). Subgroup analyses showed that the effect appeared to be more profound among girls (Est 65 cpm, CI 5, 124, p = 0.03) and among participants in the low-activity group (Est 92 cpm, CI 41, 142, p < 0.001), as compared to boys and participants in the high-activity group, respectively. Furthermore, the intervention affected physical activity among the normal weight group more positively than among the overweight, and participants with parents having 13–16 years of education more positively than participants with parents having either a lower or higher number of years of education. The intervention seemed to succeed in reducing time spent sedentary among girls but not among boys.
A comprehensive but feasible, multi-component school-based intervention can affect physical activity patterns in adolescents by increasing overall physical activity. This intervention effect seemed to be more profound in girls than boys, low-active adolescents compared to high-active adolescents, participants with normal weight compared to the overweight, and for participants with parents of middle education level as opposed to those with high and low education levels, respectively. An implementation of the HEIA intervention components in the school system may have a beneficial effect on public health by increasing overall physical activity among adolescents and possibly among girls and low-active adolescents in particular.