For physical activity programs aimed at adolescents to work they have to involve school, family and community life, says an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The research team from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit said multi-component interventions targeted at adolescents offer major positive results. These programs include policy or environmental changes, such as extra PE classes, as well as traditional health education.

The writers explain that successful programs have an important impact and make a major difference, and should be actively promoted.

The researchers examined all published studies about the effectiveness of promoting physical activity to adolescents/children. They report that evidence exists that programs that alter children's environments, such as improvements to a playground, may have a significant impact. Although programs targeted at poorer children may have some impact on their levels of activity, the authors stress that further research is needed.

The writers explain that one of the key ways to combat obesity is to get young people to take part in more physical activity. Children who are inactive generally become inactive adults, thus increasing their risks later on in life of developing such diseases as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. It is a priority to evaluate and develop these sorts of programs. However, it has been unclear how successful these programs/efforts are at increasing activity levels of children/adolescents.

They found no evidence that the use of education alone might have an impact on raising children's activity levels. For young children, say the authors, programmes that use a variety of components, such as extra PE classes, PE teacher training, or extra equipment, success rates are unclear. However, this strategy is definitely successful for adolescents.

There is compelling evidence, say the researchers, that when programs involve the adolescent, the school, family and community, their chances of success are much greater. This may include homework assignments, or incorporating physical activity into ongoing community events. Benefits observed by the authors range from 3 minutes extra effort during PE to a 50% increase in the number of people taking part in regular physical activity.

The evidence is more compelling for adolescents, say the researchers, perhaps because the studies for this age group were of a higher quality and involved larger numbers. Another factor might be that adolescents tend to be less physically active than younger children, so a program would have a bigger impact on them.

"Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity in children and adolescents: systematic review of controlled trials"
BMJ Online First


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