OSU study shows improvements in physical activity when 'tool kits' are used in rural schools

PHOTO COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - A sample card from a Balanced Energy Physical Activity tool kit developed by Oregon State University Extension Services. Teachers in Columbia County were provided these tool kits during and after a study about childhood obesity prevention.Rates of childhood obesity in Columbia County are nearly 2 percentage points higher than the national average, according to a recent study conducted by Oregon State University, and researchers are looking into the benefits of providing physical activity "tool kits" to rural school districts to curb those numbers.

Students were more physically active in rural communities, including the Rainier and Clatskanie school districts, when school staff were provided with specialized tool kits to promote physical activity in the classroom, according to a Thursday, Aug. 10, release from OSU.

Researchers with OSU wanted to provide teachers and educators in rural communities with resources to combat high obesity rates and study the effectiveness of the tool kits. During the study, two schools in each of three districts, including Columbia, Clatsop and Clackamas counties, were provided Balanced Energy Physical Activity tool kits designed by OSU Extension Service physical activity specialist, Kathy Gunter.

One of the schools was offered a low level of support, while the other was offered a high level of support with the tool kit. Students wore pedometers during the study and researchers tracked how many steps they took each day. The researchers compared which classes were more active overall.

The results of the study showed that teachers who were provided full support and access to the tool kits were more successful in getting children to be physically active throughout the day.

The study itself also allowed researchers to get a baseline of obesity in children in certain segments of the county.

In Columbia County, 34.5 percent of elementary school children fall into the category of overweight or obese, compared to the national average of 32.6 percent.

"What we're finding is that kids aren't even getting close to the recommended time of physical activity," said Jenny Rudolph, an OSU professor of practice and the faculty lead working with the districts.

Higher rates of obesity are fairly common in rural communities, Rudolph added. The study found that students who live in rural communities spend 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half on the bus, which can limit free time to be outside and active.

"If you live really far out, you're really far from parks and other amenities that promote physical activity," Rudolph said. "And most of your daylight hours are spent at school, which is why schools are so important to providing that physical activity."

The demands of a modern classroom can be a barrier to getting enough physical activity, Rudolph said. Using the tool kit, teachers are encouraged to have students take "brain breaks" for five minutes at a time and be active.

After the research component of the program was completed, Rudolph said partner schools in Clatskanie and Rainier still have full access to the tool kits. Last summer, staff at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in St. Helens were also offered professional development training to use the tool kits in their own classrooms.

The tool kits include numerous activities for teachers to use in their classrooms, as well as access to videos and nutrition facts they can use to teach students.

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