~ Nutrition, Physical Activity Boost School Performance; Four-Year Program Improves Test Scores, Discipline, Attendance

US Newswire, 06-02-06

DENVER, Jun 1, 2006 (U.S. Newswire via COMTEX) -- An innovative program to increase physical activity and improve nutrition at an elementary school has shown dramatic results over four years, according to research presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) at Denver. The school logged significant gains on standardized tests, and nurse visits declined by 67 percent during the experiment.

Researcher Benjamin Sibley, Ph.D., says the program "Making the Grade with Diet and Exercise" (MGDE) rose out of concerns that increased focus on academic performance would lead schools to cut opportunities for physical activity. "Childhood health is of great concern," said Sibley. "Children now are developing lifestyle diseases such as Type-II diabetes and atherosclerosis which typically are not seen until adulthood. These conditions can be brought about in part by poor nutrition and low levels of physical activity."

Tom Yazvac, principal of Springfield Local Elementary School in New Middletown, Ohio, first sought to boost academic performance through more traditional academic interventions such as summer school and after-school programs. Poor results led school officials to develop the MGDE program, which now has been implemented at a second school.

MGDE consists of three core components:

1. A 10 - 20 minute period of physical activity at the beginning of each school day

2. A simple but nutritionally sound breakfast for all students

3. Recess before lunch, rather than after as is typical in elementary schools. Teachers determine specific physical activities, said Sibley, which increases teacher ownership of the program. Typical activities include walking, running, exercising to videos, calisthenics, resistance training, and gymnasium or playground games.

After the activity period, students pick up brown-bag breakfasts consisting of cereal and/or another bread product served along with milk and juice on most days. Other periods throughout the day are shortened by two to three minutes each to make time for the activity and breakfast periods.

Sibley explained the rationale for scheduling recess before lunch. "After sitting in the classroom all morning," he said, "children are anxious for recess. When recess comes after lunch -- a typical format in many elementary schools -- students are likely to rush through their meal, leaving much of it uneaten, to hurry out to the playground." Furthermore, he noted, "At the end of recess students are frequently over-excited and perhaps quarreling, and it may take classroom teachers several minutes to quiet them down. Placing recess before lunch allows students to burn off pent-up energy, then sit down to eat and return to the classroom ready to learn."

At Springfield, that's just what they did. The school has improved from passing two of the state indicator proficiency tests prior to the intervention to passing all five tests. A significantly higher percentage of students earned passing scores on each of the tests compared with pre-MGDE levels:

-- Reading (28 percent increase)

-- Writing (23 percent increase)

-- Math (23 percent increase)

-- Citizenship (11 percent increase)

-- Science (29 percent increase)

Studies are under way to measure the program's impact on student obesity and physical activity levels. One measure is clear, though: visits to the school nurse are down 67 percent, with the number of visits "out of boredom" (as determined by the school nurse) specifically declining in frequency.

Over the four-year intervention, the school noted a steady increase in daily attendance (from 94.3 percent in 1999 - 2000 to 95.9 percent in 2003 - 2004.) Discipline referrals were down by 58 percent over the same period.

Costs for the MGDE were mainly for food -- about $10,000 annually. "After observing the results of the program," said Sibley, "school administrators and school board members have committed to maintaining the program." He pointed out that schools with a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced meals would have minimal costs in implementing such a program.

"We learned several important lessons with this intervention." said Sibley. "Interventions to increase physical activity and improve nutrition may be an effective method to improve student academic performance. Also, schools can make environmental changes that have the potential to improve student health through diet and physical activity with minimal cost and disruption of the school day. Finally -- and perhaps most dramatically -- implementation of a program to increase physical activity and improve nutrition at school led to increased attendance, decreases in nurse visits and discipline referrals, and improved achievement test performance by students."


Editor's Note: The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.


ACSM's 53nd Annual Meeting takes place May 31 through June 1 at the Colorado Convention Center and the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. For more information on the event, or to speak with ACSM Communications and Public Information staff, please call 303-228-8350. After June 5, please call the ACSM Communications and Public Information office at 317-637-9200 ext. 117 or 127.

ACSM: Advancing health through science, education and medicine.

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to promoting and integrating scientific research, education, and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health, and quality of life.


CONTACT: Christa Dickey, 303-228-8350 or cdickey@acsm.org, or Dan Henkel, 303-228-8350 or dhenkel@acsm.org, both of the American College of Sports Medicine

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