To combat soaring childhood obesity rates, just released guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics call for greater prevention efforts, including increased physical activity for children. Although the pediatricians group says that more research needs to be done to prove whether anti-obesity strategies work, a new UCLA study has found one program that dramatically improves children’s fitness.
The program is called Sound Body Sound Mind (SBSM), which is a joint partnership between the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation and the UCLA Health System. The program donates gym equipment to public schools so that students can exercise and familiarize themselves with fitness techniques that will improve their health and well-being. SBSM has installed more than 100 fitness centers into Los Angeles-area public schools and impacted more than 100,000 students. The program is innovative, but the bottom line is that it works.
California requires students take a FITNESSGRAM assessment, which measures muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity, flexibility and body composition. Students must achieve a passing score in five of these six categories. According to the UCLA study, SBSM greatly improved student FITNESSGRAM scores.
At the five inner-city Los Angeles schools in the UCLA study, only 20 percent of the students passed the FITNESSGRAM prior to starting the SBSM program. In fact, students’ pre-SBSM scores were significantly below the California and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) averages. That all changed after implementation of the SBSM program.
When students were tested after going through the SBSM program, passage rates on the FITNESSGRAM skyrocketed to 61 percent, which was above the averages statewide and for the Los Angeles school district. For example, the passage rate of post-SBSM seventh-grade students was 60 percent, while only 44 percent of LAUSD seventh graders passed. How did SBSM achieve such a turnaround? The UCLA study points to the program’s curriculum.
The SBSM curriculum includes thirty lessons, which promote student mastery of various physical tasks. Workout sessions take place at 4-6 “stations” where different equipment is provided to help a particular physical activity (lower-body strength, core/upper-body strength, coordination, etc.). Student groups rotate from station to station during each P.E. class. Equipment includes balls, cones, free-weights, jumping ropes, exercise mats, agility ladders, and marking tape.
Teachers interviewed for the UCLA study rated the SBSM curriculum as “highly effective.” Also, more than half of surveyed students concluded that SBSM was either “extremely effective” or “quite effective.” Such changes in behavior and attitudes corroborate previous anecdotal comments by students.
Angel Zazueta is a student who went through the SBSM program at a school not in the study. Admitting that he was overweight and out of shape prior to the program, he found that as he went through SBSM’s curriculum, “Each month I started to get stronger and more motivated.” Further, Angel found: “With this [SBSM] fitness center, it helped me grow mentally because I noticed when I worked out I set goals for myself. By achieving them, it helped a lot to boost my self-esteem. It has motivated me to be a better person each day.”
Angel’s comment underscores the conclusion of the UCLA study that schools must adopt physical education curricula “that target not only the bodies but also the minds of their students, building confidence, self-esteem, as well as physical ability.” “The promising results of this [SBSM] intervention,” notes the study, “imply that it may be a right step towards this direction,” which should give hope to children fighting obesity and the doctors who are trying to help them.
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