Before-School Running/Walking Club and Student Physical Activity Levels: An Efficacy Study

Michalis Stylianou, Hans van der Mars, Pamela Hodges Kulinna, et al.

Despite public health concerns and the extensive health benefits of physical activity (PA; Janssen & LeBlanc, 2010), a large proportion of American youth do not meet the national PA guidelines (Troiano et al., 2008). Schools have been identified as primary PA promotion sites (Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2013) because they can reach the vast majority of school-aged youth, and they often have the needed facilities as well as personnel who, with sufficient training, can define PA policies and facilitate PA programs. However, youth spend most of their time in school being sedentary (i.e., sitting; Abbott, Straker, & Mathiassen, 2013). Additionally, school PA opportunities (i.e., physical education and recess) have decreased in the last few years due to an increased emphasis on boosting academic performance (Center on Education Policy [CEP], 2007). Thus, it is unlikely that youth can meet the PA guidelines through physical education (PE) and/or recess alone.

Multifaceted and coordinated school-based programs (often called comprehensive or whole-school programs)have been identified as a promising approach for increasing PA in youth (e.g., IOM, 2013). One such program is the comprehensive school physical activity program (CSPAP; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2013), which includes five components, one of which is PA before and after school. Relevant research, however, has largely focused on afterschool programs, possibly because they are more prevalent.

Before-school physical activity programs

Before-school PA programs refer to any school-based program that targets PA promotion before the start of the school day. In the CSPAP Policy Continuum document (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2012), the optimal policy related to beforeschool and after-school programs requires the provision of 30 min to 60 min of PA, of which 50% should be spent in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA). However, based on relevant study findings, organized activities rarely occurred before school in elementary and middle schools (McKenzie, Marshall, Sallis, & Conway, 2000; Turner, Johnson, Slater, & Chaloupka, 2014), and only a small proportion of students visited activity areas before school (McKenzie et al., 2000). Yet, evidence from descriptive studies supports the potential of before-school time to significantly contribute to children’s PA (McKenzie, Crespo, Baquero, & Elder, 2010; McKenzie et al., 2000; Tudor-Locke, Lee, Morgan, Beighle, & Pangrazi, 2006). Further, there is preliminary evidence that children can accumulate substantial MVPA during a campus-based, before-school program using an interactive multimedia PA training system (Mahar, Vuchenich, Golden, DuBose, & Raedeke, 2011). However, the specific intervention required a significant financial investment, which may make it a less feasible option for schools.

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