RESEARCH – December 2016

School-day physical activity of school-children in Estonia

Authors: Kerli Mooses, Maarja Kalma, Maret Pihu, Eva-Maria Riso, Aave Hannus, Merike Kull

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Background and aims. There is ample evidence that physical activity is necessary for children`s physical and mental health and supports academic achievements. At the same time, increasing sedentary behaviour and decreasing physical activity levels of children are a serious concern for many developed countries. The aim of the current study was to evaluate the physical activity levels and sedentary time of primary school children in diferent school-day segments.

Methods. Randomly selected 13 schools al l over Estonia participated in a study conducted from December 2014 to May 2015. All students from the first school level (grades 1 and 2) and second school level (grades 4 and 5) were asked to participate. Physical activity was measured for a subgroup of consented students, using accelerometry. The beginning and end times of different school-day segments were based on the diaries, filled in by the students, and on school timetables.

Results. Only 29.3% and 17.5% of the students of the first and second school levels, respectively, met physical activity recommendations (p = 0.003). The students of the second school level spent a higher proportion of awake hours as sedentary compared to students from the first school level (62.7% and 54.8%, respectively, p < 0.001). In-school moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) contributed to almost a quarter of daily MVPA (school level I, 23.6%; school level II, 28.5%), with an important input from physical education. Almost a third of the lesson of physical education was spent in MVPA while another third was spent as sedentary (28.3% and 29.5%, respectively).

Conclusion. Although school MVPA contributes significantly to the overall physical activity of students, the levels of physical activity are low. Consequently, there is a need for an evidence-based interventions aimed to increase the levels of physical activity and to decrease the sedentary time of school-children throughout the school day.