A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Impact of a School-Based Sport Research Program on Children’s Physical Activity, Executive Function, and Academic Achievement

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Schools are identified as a critical setting for obesity prevention interventions since they reach most school-aged youth, and resources are in place to promote physical activity and nutrition. Despite school recruitment being a critical first step for conducting school-based health promotion interventions, there has not been a comprehensive assessment of school recruitment strategies. The first aim of this thesis used a systematic review with a Delphi study to identify effective and resource-efficient strategies for recruiting schools into health promotion intervention studies. The findings suggest that reporting on school recruitment needs to be improved in published manuscripts. Improved reporting of school recruitment, such as duration, effectiveness, cost, and school sample size, will inform the planning phase of future school-based interventions. Delphi experts recommended that “Creating new or leveraging pre-existing partnerships that are meaningful,” “Minimal school disruptions,” “Intervention champion,” “Working with open mind/flexible,” and “Transparent communication” are the top five most effective and resource-efficient strategies for recruitment of schools. Future research is needed to test the efficacy of those strategies in school recruitment. Sport has been found as a promising way to improve the activity behaviors of children and, in doing so, to promote their cognition and academic performance. However, relatively few high-quality studies were designed to test the effectiveness of sport-based intervention on those outcomes. Therefore, the second and third aims of this thesis utilized randomized control trial design in the school setting to evaluate the impact of a sport-based physical activity programming (treatment) on children’s activity behaviors, executive functions, and academic performance, compared to standard physical education class. While there were no differences in activity behaviors, executive functions, and academic outcomes over the 10 weeks of the intervention between conditions (p values >.05), children with lower physical activity and executive functioning benefit more from the physical activity intervention. Also, an exploratory finding of this study showed that African American children (M = -1.02, SD = 18.01) benefitted less from our intervention to improve inhibitory control and attention than children from other races and ethnicities (M = 5.10, SD = 16.31), t(241) = 2.73, p = .007). Taken together, these results indicate that sport-based PE among physically active children was as effective as standard PE in improving activity behaviors, EF, or academic performance. However, the effectiveness of the sport-based interventions might differ based on the characteristics of the sample (e.g., initial activity levels, race and ethnicity). Future high-quality research is needed to test the superiority of the current soccer skill development intervention over the standard PE on those outcomes among children who respond better to this current intervention.

physical activity, children, school, executive functioning