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Pilot Study Suggests Private School Children Are More Physically Active Than State School Children

A pilot study of schools in Sheffield, UK, suggests that activity levels of children in independent (or private) schools may be higher than that of their counterparts. The research is being presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK, and is by Dr Emma J Davies, University of Nottingham, UK, and Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, UK and Dr Kimberley L Edwards, University of Nottingham, UK.

A significant number of children are insufficiently active for good health. The school that children attend affects their physical activity level. However, no research to date has looked to determine a difference between physical activity levels of children at independent compared with in the UK.

In this pilot study, the researchers recruited three schools (2 independent of which 1 was all boys and the other all girls, and 1 mixed state school) across Sheffield, UK. Data were collected from 189 children in year 8 (aged 12-13 years)* on their physical activity and sedentary behaviours over the past week using the Youth Physical Activity Questionnaire.

The data gathered showed that children were more active and more likely to meet the government guidelines for physical activity than their state school counterparts: 87% versus 71% respectively. Children’s physical activity was measured using total MET-minutes (a calculation of how much energy they used based on their metabolic rate and how much time they spent doing various physical activities). This MET-minute total per week was significantly predicted by school type (independent = more METs) but not by the children’s socioeconomic status or gender.

However, independent school children also reported more minutes of sedentary behaviour than state school children. This implies that independent school children spent less time in ‘light’ physical activity. The UK government guidelines only include moderate to vigorous physical activity (not light), as this type of activity has been shown to be beneficial to health. As with MET minutes, children’s total sedentary minutes per week were significantly predicted by school type (independent = more sedentary minutes) but not by socioeconomic status or gender.

Dr Davies says: “These results show that children at state school undertook less physical activity across a 7-day week (whether at school or home) than their peers at independent schools. This early work suggests that increasing the amount of time children are active at state schools could be beneficial for many children’s health.”

She adds: “Further research is required to confirm these findings and to determine the level to which they can be generalised across the UK. These results have potential widespread use for both government and school level policy making in tackling the current childhood inactivity and obesity problems.”

Note to editors: *62 independent school children, 127 state school children; 82 boys & 107 females in total. State boys = 62, State girls = 65, Independent boys = 20, Independent girls = 42.


Link to full abstract

Source: European Congress on Obesity (ECO)