Physical activity and child health: Can school-based intervention make a difference?
Childhood obesity and inactivity is a significant public health problem that also has economic consequences. Therefore, economists have a role to play in determining the causal impacts. The influences of childhood background on outcomes can, usefully, be broken down into the effect of family, school and peer. To combat the raising childhood obesity, schools have been advocated as a potential area. This paper analyses whether increasing physical activity in a school context can contribute to health improvement using multiple outcomes. We address the issue by using a unique longitudinal data set of, respectively, 1087 (BMI) and 1047 (fitness) schoolchildren attending 37 state schools in the Municipality of Aalborg, Denmark. The effect is identified by using a randomized experiment that creates an exogenous increase in physical activity. Surprisingly, we find that the intervention did not have the expected impact on schoolchildren’s health, and the scant evidence we have points towards a negative effect. A plausible explanation is that the results mask important heterogeneity. Another plausible explanation is that the results also capture any compensating behaviour that schoolchildren engage in by being less active out of school. From a public-policy perspective, increasing physical activity in a school context seems to increase the ‘gap’ in child health and ‘crowd-out’ outside-school physical activity. Consequently, a supportive cost-benefit case might exist if parental behaviour is assumed to be affected by school resources and endogenous.
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work.