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School Staff’s Perspectives on the Adoption of Elementary-School Physical Activity Approaches: A Qualitative Study

Jacob Szeszulski, Timothy J. Walker, Michael C. Robertson, Paula Cuccaro & Maria E. Fernandez

ajhe cover November December 2020

Physical activity is an important component of elementary school children’s physical, social, and emotional development, and can also prevent chronic diseases throughout their lives. Current national physical activity guidelines recommend that children participate in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day, and experts recommend that schools provide at least half of that amount during normal school hours (≥30 minutes). Elementary schools play an important role in children’s physical activity, and the adoption of comprehensive school-based approaches, including before, during, and after-school physical activity opportunities, can help students meet recommendations and improve their health. Additionally, urban school children may have less opportunities for physical activity than rural school children (e.g., recess); thus, it is critical to understand factors affecting the adoption of physical activity approaches in schools from urban districts.

Implementation researchers define adoption as an organization’s initial decision to commit to and initiate an approach, and we define physical activity approaches as curricula, initiatives, programs, staff practices or policies designed to improve children’s physical activity. Adoption is assessed in terms of the number, proportion, and representativeness of organizations who initiate that approach. Although best practice guidelines recommend the adoption of comprehensive, evidence-based approaches (EBAs) (e.g., SPARK or CATCH curricula) for increasing children’s physical activity, less than half of elementary schools adopt these types of approaches. Instead, schools adopt a wide variety of approaches with varying levels of evidence (e.g., brain breaks, flexible seating, multiple recess).6,10 By understanding factors that affect the adoption of both evidenced-based and non-EBAs, we can inform researchers and practitioners about potential opportunities to improve the quality of elementary school-based physical activity approaches, and subsequently, their children’s health.

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