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Active Children Perform Better at Primary School

Keele academics have lent their expertise to a pilot project designed to improve local children’s health and wellbeing.

Councillor Dr Janine Bridges, from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, has been piloting an initiative to increase the levels of physical activity in primary school children to improve their health and wellbeing, in partnership with staff from Keele’s School of Allied Health Professions and Neil Gilson from the charity Education through the Physical.

An evaluation of the pilot, by Dr Michael McCluskey of Keele University, has shown that children who were given the opportunity to be physically active benefitted in more ways than just their physical health and wellbeing.

Dr McCluskey evaluated data from a cohort of Year 4, 5 and 6 primary school children, to assess whether there is an association between children’s physical activity, weight gain and academic attainment. The researchers collected data from 86 children at a primary school in Stoke-on-Trent, assessing their height, weight and BMI, as well as their physical activity levels using a questionnaire. Their academic attainment was also measured using national standardised tests.

The results showed that there was an association between children’s physical activity levels, body mass and their academic attainment, with lower activity levels negatively affecting the children’s growth and academic performance.

The team found that children who were less active had a higher rate of weight gain than children who are more active, and had greater fluctuations in weight during the year. Children who were more active also performed better in writing, mathematics and reading tests. However, the researchers also acknowledged that the study does not assess some unaccounted socio-economic factors, meaning the differences may not solely be down to physical activity levels.

These findings are an important contribution in the ongoing drive to improve the health and wellbeing of children from Stoke-on-Trent, with lead author Dr McCluskey saying: “Physical inactivity is increasing and has become a global health challenge as it is associated with the development of a number of health conditions such as heart disease, dementia, cancer, diabetes and obesity. These findings add further evidence highlighting the holistic benefits of physical activity.

“Those who have a responsibility to care for children need to encourage and provide the opportunity for them to achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. A positive attitude to physical activity developed during childhood should track into adulthood, leading to improved quality of life.”

Doctor Bridges, who is the city council’s cabinet member for education and economy, added: “This groundbreaking quantitative study in partnership with Keele University has given us some important information about how lifestyle factors can affect weight gain and academic performance. It has established a sound basis for further study to examine more closely those factors that can affect obesity and academic performance. Currently Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Keele University are continuing this evaluation to further identify these factors and how they can affect social mobility in our children.

“The continuing initiatives in this groundbreaking area will consolidate the data we have already collected and give us further insight into those factors that we can most easily influence to affect the social mobility of our most vulnerable children, and allow us to support them to reach their full potential. Thanks must go to our partners at Keele University and our school partners in completing this study.”

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