Physical activity is important for children’s physical and mental health. The UK government recommend that all children should spend an hour each day doing something that gets them slightly hot, sweaty and out of breath.
Schools are key to helping children be physically active as almost all children attend them. They have the facilities and trained staff to deliver programmes and promote physical activity. However, by the end of primary school around half of children do not meet the recommended hour of activity each day.
Most schools use the same approaches to encourage children to be physically active. However, each school has a different setting, facilities, leadership and pupil profiles.
There have been many different attempts to increase activity levels among children. With a few exceptions, these haven’t really worked. We need a new approach that supports schools to tailor physical activity programmes to their specific needs and context.
Our main aim is to work with schools, children and families to develop a menu of physical activity options that schools can choose from to produce their own physical activity programme.
What we did
We carried out a scoping review of school-based intervention studies aimed at increasing physical activity in children aged 7-11 years.
A scoping review is a study aimed at providing an overview or map of the evidence available for a particular topic.
What we found and what this means
We created a framework of intervention components and divided these into opportunities for children to be active: within the school day, within the extended school day and within the wider school environment.
Interventions were usually targeted at physical education (PE) lessons, active breaks and active and outdoor learning. Most were delivered by school staff as this is both convenient and cost-effective. However, it can also mean that interventions are unsuccessful due to a lack of staff time and school resources.
Among the studies included in our review, few provided any context for schools such as geographical location, socioeconomic characteristics, ethnicity, and school size. This made it difficult for us to understand whether context had any impact on the success or design of interventions.
Future research should seek to measure and report contextual factors, and to better understand the important aspects of context within school-based physical activity.
What we hope to achieve
We want to produce a portfolio of physical activity interventions that have been shown to help primary school-aged children be more physically active. This will include materials developed to support the delivery of the programme. Our evaluation will help us understand how well this new approach can meet its aim of increasing children’s physical activity levels in the long-term.