In the News
Much has been done to make the public aware of the obesity epidemic among children and adolescents, and studies have shown that physical education and sports participation may aid in allaying this problem.
A new study has also examined the influence of “active commuting”—biking or walking to school—on the weight of high school students and suggests that simply getting teenagers to walk or bike to school can help fight teenage obesity.
The data came from a seven-year longitudinal study of 1,718 students enrolled in 26 randomly selected New Hampshire and Vermont public schools between 2002 and 2009. The study was conducted in five waves of telephone surveys of adolescent–parent dyads.
Trained interviewers recorded height, weight, and physical activity (sports participation, active commuting to school, and physical education classes), as well as variables such as parental income, the number of parents in the household, and baseline age-specific body mass index.
Data on diet were collected, as was information on other indications of physical activity, such as active commuting to places other than school; other extracurricular physical activity; the amount of time spent watching television, DVDs, or videos; and time spent on the computer for purposes other than homework.
The study found that although sports team participation was the only kind of physical activity that had an inverse relationship to both overweight–obesity and obesity alone, active commuting had a significant inverse association with obesity.
Adolescents who actively commuted to school more than 3.5 days a week were 33% less likely to be obese, compared with those who never walked or biked to school.
According to the study authors, the study's main weakness is that, because it relied entirely on phone interviews, all measures of height, weight, and physical activity were self-reported, and further studies are therefore necessary to see whether these findings are upheld.
Nonetheless, given both the obesity crisis among the nation's youth and that school sports have often either been eliminated or scaled back because of reduced school budgets, this study has important implications both for school nurses and for parent education.—David Carter
Drake KM, et al. Pediatrics. 2012;130(2):e296–e304 . [Epub 2012 Jul 16].