After-school soccer programs look like a win for increasing physical activity among overweight youth in low-income neighborhoods, according to a new University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health study.
Researchers looked at the impact that long-running after-school soccer and literacy program, America SCORES, has on physical activity, weight, and cardiovascular fitness among diverse elementary school students in low-income neighborhoods of San Francisco. The program is voluntary, with two hours of soccer offered two to three days a week after school.
Over the course of the school year, researchers found that the program increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by an average of 3.4 minutes per weekday and 18.5 minutes on Saturdays among students with a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile, when compared with students at control schools who did not have the SCORES program. The program did not significantly increase physical activity among children who were not overweight or obese.
“We were excited that we saw an impact in the overweight kids because these are the kids at greatest health risk and often those least likely to respond to these kinds of programs,” says Dr. Kristine Madsen, a pediatrician and assistant professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “There is so often a ceiling on how much kids exercise and it is really hard to move that number,” she adds.
The study was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics on February 25.
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[Photo: Students in the SCORE after-school program play soccer]