The impacts of physical education on children’s mental health

The impacts of physical education on children’s mental health

By Jun Wang, Johns Hopkins University

An Australian study called LOOK (The Lifestyle of our Kids) examined the potential role of physical education (PE) on children’s mental health, including stress, depression, and body image in a school-based cluster randomized controlled trial. Participants were initially Grade 2 children from 29 schools.

The intervention introduced a 4-year specialist-taught PE program into the school curriculum, which allowed children to engage in more PE activities than those in the control group, whose lessons were led by generalist classroom teachers.

Results revealed that the intervention had different effects in the short-term and long-term. Short-term results (from Grade 2 to Grade 3) showed improvements for girls in body satisfaction and decreased depressive symptoms for boys. From a long-term perspective, the positive impacts of the intervention were not sustained. Moreover, the study showed an increase in depressive symptoms for girls receiving the intervention in the subscale of Ineffectiveness and Interpersonal Problems. The authors discussed the possibilities of the unsustainable positive effects of the intervention and suggested that PE could be a vehicle to deliver well-being programs, thus minimizing any potential negative impacts on children’s mental health.

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