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Coordinated School Health Model Can Increase Students' Physical Activity

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

Budget cuts may leave some school programs like PE and recess on the back burner, but a study from Indiana University suggests that schools can still continue to play a key role in students' health lives with a little bit of creativity and community support.

The study, published in Preventative Medicine, involved 1,100 students from eight southern Indiana elementary and middle schools.

Over 18 months, researchers found that schools that implemented the CDC's coordinated school health model, called HEROES, were more likely to increase students' physical-activity levels, especially among girls.

The increase in girls' vigorous physical-activity levels is an especially important finding, according to Mindy Hightower King, evaluation manager at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University, Bloomington, because girls are more likely to engage in moderate physical activity (like walking), or no activity at all, becoming more sedentary with age.

HEROES—Healthy, Energetic, Ready, Outstanding, Enthusiastic, Schools—is a grant-funded, multiyear intervention program designed to help schools create healthier environments for their students and is focused on five components aimed at obesity prevention:


  • PE curriculum

  • Nutrition environment

  • Physical environment

  • Health-promotion efforts for school staff

  • Family and community involvement

The participating schools implemented policies and programs focused on encouraging healthy behaviors among students and staff members.

The activities implemented often resulted in more opportunities for students to engage in physical activities, have access to healthier foods and better nutrition education, and opportunities for staff members to participate in wellness programs.

Well and Good "With support from teachers, administrators, and parents, our schools can become healthier places," King said in a statement.

There is no one-size-fits-all model. Each of the participating schools tailored their HEROES program based on their school's needs and culture. They were able to provide students with physical-activity opportunities, not necessarily by increasing recess time, but by pursuing activities, like before- and after-school walking programs, classroom activity breaks, and club sports during the school day.

The Institute of Medicine recommends students take part in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, and while it may be easier to encourage students to participate in extracurricular athletic programs, not all students can or even want to get involved in competitive sports.

HEROES allows schools to develop programs specific to their population, getting students physically active without having to learn or be knowledgeable in sports-specific skills.

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