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Exercise the key

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WELLNESS More time in gym class lowers obesity risk in children

STRUCTURED PHYSICAL ACTIVITYPrevents weight problems
STRUCTURED PHYSICAL ACTIVITYPrevents weight problems

Increasing the amount of time that elementary schoolchildren spent in gym class reduces the probability of obesity, a new study from Cornell University has found.

The study represents some of the first evidence of a causal effect of physical education (PE) on youth obesity.

The research offers support for the recommendations of organisations such as the Centers for Disease Control, Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of which have advocated increasing the amount of time that elementary school children spend in gym class, says lead researcher and Cornell professor of policy analysis and management, John Cawley, who conducted the study with Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University and David Frisvold of Emory University. Treating variation in the amount of time that schoolchildren spend in PE as natural experiments, the researchers found that an additional 60 minutes per week of PE time reduces the probability that a fifth-grader is obese by 4.8 per centage points.

The researchers also detected a gender difference: additional PE time reduces weight for boys but has a negligible effect for girls. One explanation for this difference, says Cawley, is that PE and other types of physical activity are complements for boys (increased PE leads boys to be more active in structured physical activities such as organised sports), but substitutes for girls (increased PE leads girls to spend more time watching television).

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