Put the Physical in Education

Sept. 4, 2014, The New York Times [Well Blog]

By Gretchen Reynolds

When confronted with an overly active child, many exasperated teachers and parents respond the same way: “Sit still!” It might be more effective, though, to encourage the child to run. Recent research suggests that even small amounts of exercise enable children to improve their focus and academic performance.

By now it’s well known that diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are increasingly widespread among American children: The label has been applied to about 11 percent of those between the ages of 4 and 17, according to the latest federal statistics. Interestingly, past studies have shown a strong correlation between greater aerobic fitness and attentiveness. But these studies did not answer the question of which comes first, the fitness or the attentional control. Continue reading

After-school exercise yields brain gains

Sept. 29, 2014, HealthDay

By Tara Haelle

Regular daily exercise appears to improve children’s attention and multitasking skills, according to a new study.

Elementary school-age students who participated in an after-school program with plenty of physical activity showed greater improvements in several areas of so-called “executive function” than similar students who did not participate.

Executive function refers to a range of mental or “cognitive” skills that include memory, focus, attention, and the ability to switch back and forth between tasks.

Lead researcher Charles Hillman said that students who had the highest attendance in the program saw the biggest gains in mental skills. Continue reading

One in four U.S. kids underestimate their weight

July 31, 2014, HealthDay

Many obese and overweight kids don’t see themselves that way, which makes achieving a healthy weight almost impossible, researchers report.

In a new study, 27 percent of children and teens underestimated their weight. Fewer than 3 percent overestimated it. About 25 percent of parents underestimated their child’s weight and just 1 percent overestimated it, according to the study.

“Efforts to prevent childhood obesity should incorporate education for both children and parents regarding the proper identification and interpretation of actual body weight,” said lead researcher Han-Yang Chen, from the department of quantitative health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass. Continue reading

The cheap, colorful way cities are trying to fight childhood obesity

July 31, 2014, City Lab

By Aarian Marshall

The United States has a well-known childhood obesity problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of the nation’s children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. The percentage of obese children ages 6 to 11 more than doubled over the past three decades, from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2012.

But some cities, designers, and child health advocates think they have a solution—at least a small part of a solution. And the best news for cash-strapped schools and governments is that the solution is cheap.

In the language of playground design, “ground markings” are shapes, pictures, or games drawn onto the surfaces of play areas. These include readymade hopscotch squares, giant maps, and big circles to leap between. Continue reading

Study: Children who exercise have better body-fat distribution, regardless of weight

May 19, 2014, Medical Xpress

Maybe the numbers on the scale are not alarming, but that doesn’t mean that healthy-weight children get a pass on exercising, according to a new University of Illinois (U of I) study published in Pediatrics.

“The FITKids study demonstrates the extent to which physical activity can improve body composition, and that’s important because it matters to your health where fat is stored. But the study is also interesting for what happened in the control group to the kids who didn’t exercise,” said Naiman Khan, a postdoctoral researcher in U of I’s Division of Nutritional Sciences.

At the end of the nine-month program, the contrast between the exercisers and non-exercisers was noticeable, he said. “FITKids had improved cardiovascular fitness, less overall body fat, and carried less fat around their abdomens, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. The opposite was true for the control group who maintained their regular after-school routine.” Continue reading

The one good thing about teens and sports drinks

May 6, 2014, TIME

By Alice Park

Researchers confirm a strong connection between sports and energy drinks and smoking, video game playing, and sugary soda consumption. But the beverages were also linked to more physical activity among teens.

Considering what we know about kids and sports drinks — briefly, that according to leading health groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children should not be drinking them — the small silver lining, according to a recent study, is that kids who drink them tend to exercise more than those who don’t. But they were also more likely to do things that harm their health, too.

Nicole Larson and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health asked nearly 3,000 students in grades six through 12 an exhaustive series of 235 questions and concluded that nearly 40 percent drank a sports drink at least once a week. Both boys and girls consuming sports drinks regularly were more likely to smoke and to play video games, the researchers found. They were also more likely to drink sugary soda and juice. The fact that sports and energy drink consumption are correlated with other risky behaviors, such as smoking, isn’t a surprise (though, to be clear, the researchers do not suggest a cause-effect relationship between the two). Continue reading

Motivating kids to be more physically active

March 5, 2014, News Medical

Parents can help motivate kids to be more physically active, but the influence may not result in an improvement in their children’s body mass index (BMI), finds a new evidence review in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

“It was disappointing to find the overall impact of interventions on physical activity was so minimal. It was encouraging, though, to find parents’ influence matters in this area, even with older children and teens,” said the review’s lead author Jane Cerruti Dellert, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor and director of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program at the Seton Hall University College of Nursing in New Jersey.

Health promotion advocates attempting to reduce obesity in American children need to address the role of parents in their children’s health-related behaviors, she added. Continue reading

Lower IQ, worse heart fitness in teens linked to risk of early dementia in men

March 17, 2014, HealthDay

Having a lower IQ or poorer fitness at age 18 might increase a man’s risk of developing dementia before age 60, a new study suggests.

The analysis of data from 1.1 million Swedish men suggested that the risk of early onset dementia was 2.5 times higher in those with poorer heart fitness, four times higher in those with a lower IQ, and seven times higher in those with both risk factors.

The men were first tested as part of Sweden’s national military service conscription and followed for up to 42 years.

The increased dementia risk remained even when the University of Gothenburg researchers took into account other risk factors, such as socioeconomic status and medical and family history, according to the study, which was published online recently in the journal Brain. Continue reading

Motivating kids to be more physically active

March 5, 2014, News Medical

Parents can help motivate kids to be more physically active, but the influence may not result in an improvement in their children’s body mass index (BMI), finds a new evidence review in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

“It was disappointing to find the overall impact of interventions on physical activity was so minimal. It was encouraging, though, to find parents’ influence matters in this area, even with older children and teens,” said the review’s lead author Jane Cerruti Dellert, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor and director of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program at the Seton Hall University College of Nursing in New Jersey.

Health promotion advocates attempting to reduce obesity in American children need to address the role of parents in their children’s health-related behaviors, she added. Continue reading

School health program helps kids get active

Jan. 14, 2014, Reuters

By Genevra Pittman

Investing in a broad school health program could lead to in-school and at-home benefits for students, a new Canadian study hints.

Children increased their daily physical activity on both school days and weekends in the years after schools hired a full-time health facilitator and set healthy living goals, researchers found.

“It shows that if you deliver a school program well, kids not only will be active more during the school hours when they are in the hands of the teachers but they’re also being trained and understand that it’s important to be physically active at other times,” Paul J. Veugelers said. Continue reading