A mile a day keeps the doctor away?
A programme called The Daily Mile, that encourages primary school children to run for 15 minutes each day, has been found to have a small positive impact on the body mass index of children who participate.
“The Daily Mile is working in a positive way, in that it seems to be preventing children from putting on excess weight over time. I would describe it as a mildly positive effect at the individual level,” says Emma Frew, one of the study’s authors from the University of Birmingham.
Unexpectedly, the intervention was shown to have a stronger positive effect on girls’ health-related outcomes than boys. “What you see in the literature is that physical activity interventions tend to have a better outcome in boys versus girls,” explains Frew.
As for what might be causing the greater benefits for girls, Frew highlights the inclusive, health-focused nature of the initiative. “It’s about your overall health and being strong, and not about losing weight. It’s less stigmatising for children, and for girls in particular.”
The programme also combats another problem for girls - that as they approach adolescence, their physical activity levels noticeably drop off. “The Daily Mile seems to be maintaining their levels toward those years,” Frew points out. “It seems girls have more potential to be impacted by The Daily Mile than boys.”
The Daily Mile initiative has been adopted by 10,500 school and nurseries world-wide and is recommended by the UK Government as part of its plan to tackle childhood obesity. However, until this study, no large-scale investigations into the outcomes of the programme had been carried out.
To remedy this, researchers sorted 40 Birmingham schools into two groups - one group that implemented The Daily Mile as part of their school day, and one group that did not. “A huge thank you to these schools that participated in the study” says Frew, “because without them there would be no study!”
Outcomes measured including body mass index and health-related quality of life were recorded after 4 and 12 months for both groups. The researchers also aimed to track changes in children's wellbeing and academic attainment as a result of the running, but missing data limited the analysis they could do. As a next step, Frew suggests potentially collecting this missing data for a larger cohort of children to monitor the effect of The Daily Mile, and other interventions, from a wellbeing perspective.
Although The Daily Mile shows promise, Frew cautions against viewing it as a silver bullet for childhood obesity. “With something like weight, we know it’s really complex. There are a number of different determinants, and physical activity is only one of them. But what this result tells us is that schools have a really important contribution to make as part of a wider population strategy to tackle childhood obesity.”
And, perhaps there's a take home message for adults - The Daily Mile may be aimed at primary school children, but taking fifteen minutes away from our desks would probably benefit many of us too!