Investigators from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston provided hour-long, before-school sessions three or two times a week in a 12-week curriculum, said a paper published Monday online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
In 24 elementary and middle schools in three eastern Massachusetts communities during the 2015-16 school year, the parents of all students were invited to enroll their children in the program.
Parents of those not participating in BOKS (Before School Fitness) could allow their children to participate in the comparison group. BOKS is a US organization powered by communities and empowers parents, teachers, schools and volunteers to give children a body and brain boost to help them set up for a day of learning.
Overall, for a total of 707 study participants, 274 children participated in the twice-a-week program, 151 in the three-times-a-week program, and 282 in the comparison group.
Each session includes a warm-up game, a running-related activity, skill training such as push-ups or sit-ups and a game to end the session.
The research shows that children participating three times a week had a greater chance of moving to a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) category and recording normal instead of overweight, compared with children in the comparison group.
In addition, participants aged eight and older completed surveys to evaluate their social and emotional wellness, including their overall mood, interaction with peers, satisfaction with their lives and their involvement of studies.
The result shows that participants of three-times-a-week group had better scores regarding their engagement in schoolwork, while those in the two-times-a-week group had significant improvement in mood, vitality and energy.
"Childhood is an important time for the establishment of healthy habits and routines that might protect children from chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease, and depression," said Elsie Taveras, professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who led the study.