Effect of nationwide school policy on device-measured physical activity in Danish children and adolescents: a natural experiment

Summary

Background

A new Danish school policy with a requirement for 45 min physical activity daily during school hours was introduced in 2014. The objective of this natural experiment was to evaluate the effect of this nationwide school policy on physical activity in Danish children and adolescents.

Methods

Four historical studies completed between 2009 and 2012 comprised the pre-policy study population. Post-policy data were collected in 2017/18. All post-policy schools were represented in the four pre-policy studies. Age-groups and seasons were matched. In total, 4816 children and adolescents aged 6–17 were included in the analyses (2346 pre-policy and 2470 post-policy). Children and adolescents were eligible if they had accelerometer measurements and did not have any physical disabilities preventing activity. Physical activity was measured by accelerometry. Main outcome was any bodily movement. Secondary outcomes were moderate to vigorous physical activity and overall movement volume (mean counts per minute).

Findings

The school policy interrupted a linear decreasing pre-policy trend in physical activity during school hours. All activity outcomes increased post-policy during a standardized school day (8:10 am–1 pm). Increases were more pronounced in the youngest children. Specifically, we observed a daily increase during a standardized school day in 2017/2018 of 14.2 min of movement (95% CI: 11.4–17.0, p < 0.001), 6.5 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity (95% CI: 4.7–8.3, P < 0.001), and 141.8 counts per minute (95% CI: 108.5–175.2, P < 0.001).

Interpretation

A national school policy may be an important strategy to increase physical activity during school hours among children and adolescents.

Funding

The Danish Foundation TrygFonden has funded the PHASAR project (ID 115606).

Keywords

Research in context