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Use of Outdoor Education to Increase Physical Activity and Science Learning among Low-Income Children from Urban Schools

Jessica Peacock, April Bowling, Kevin Finn & Kyle McInnis

ajhe cover March April 2021

Childhood obesity is a serious health concern in the United States, elevating lifetime chronic disease risk. Currently, the prevalence of obesity among school-aged children is 18.4% in the United States. Low levels of physical activity (PA) and high levels of sedentary behavior are one of the major contributing factors to the rise of childhood obesity and its associated risk factors. The increase in sedentary behavior and obesity rates among youth is strongly associated with increases in screen time activities such as watching television, playing video games, or exploring on a computer or tablet. This is highly problematic given adequate PA has been shown to positively affect physical health, cognitive function, and behavioral development in youth.

Meeting or exceeding the recommended daily 60 minutes of PA for school-aged children, most of which should be moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), has been shown to improve fitness levels, support bone and metabolic health, cognition, and reducing the risks of depression. Importantly, developing healthy physical activity behaviors in childhood is associated with less risk of chronic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes across the life course, conditions which disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations. Currently, however, school-aged children achieve an average of 30 MVPA minutes daily, and urban youth are at higher risk of inadequate MVPA. In school, physical education (PE) and recess are two areas children can increase levels of PA and MVPA. However, prior research has shown PE and recess alone are typically not sufficient for the majority of children to achieve the recommended PA/MVPA guidelines.

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