Lubans, D.  and Morgan, P.  (2008) ‘Impact of an extracurricular school sport programme on determinants of objectively measured physical activity among adolescents’, in Health Education Journal, 67 (4): 3O5 –320.

[A classic sports science piece, starting out with obsessive objectivity mediated through ritualistic use of various scales, heavy statistical analysis of the resultant junk data, the discovery of deep insignificance and mystery, in this case about the so called determinants, special pleading to explain that the method is not really flawed, and a final talk up paragraph saying how wonderful the study and the programme actually is and how much more research is needed]

The programme to be evaluated is LEAF (Learning to Enjoy Activity with Friends).  The point about this programme that it contains a bit of positive psychology, based on Bandura, to encourage participants to set their own goals and explore their own motivations, and generally to think positively about physical activity.  This would then combats one of the well-known outcomes of such physical activity programmes—that they have no long-term effects.  Guess what this study found.

Participant students were divided into an intervention group and a comparison group.  The intervention group had the full LEAF programme, the comparison only did the physical activities.  Baseline data on fitness was gathered using pedometers, and used to divide the sample into  low active and active [with hilariously precise criteria—lowactive girls took less than 11,000 steps per day, lowactive boys less than 13,000].  The two groups were then compared.  Levels of physical activity were affected, but not determinants [so that screws LEAF?  Not after special pleading it doesn’t].

Physical activity it is a risk factor, children and adolescents are worth targeting, because sedentary behaviour among adults can be prevented with a suitable intervention.  Schools are important sites for such intervention. LEAF was established as an extracurricular activity aimed at behaviour modification, especially goal setting and monitoring.  Unusually, it was based on a reasonable psychological theory, not just behaviourism.  Earlier research shows that it did have an effect on the activities of pupils, especially for low active girls.

Four secondary schools were selected [a rather rueful  note in the discussion says that one school dropped out; in order to keep up the numbers, is decided that each of the remaining three schools should have both comparison and intervention groups].  The programme lasts for eight weeks.  Care was taken to distribute the comparison and intervention groups between two year groups [in order to control any developmental issues?].  The students went to the University of Newcastle, Australia, for the intervention sessions.

The promotion of lifestyle changes based on Bandura.  The work identifies ‘personal factors, environmental factors and attributes of the behaviour’ as important, and their interaction.  Information was provided to the intervention group focused on health and fitness concepts and behaviour modification strategies, such as identifying barriers to activity.  Students in this group were given training handbooks and pedometers as well so they could record and monitor their own physical activity related to goals—‘developmentally appropriate physical activity goals’ (309).  Full details are provided in a table on 309 and include sessions on exercise myths, keeping a physical activity diary, working with friends, ways to make physical activity fun, barriers to physical activity, encouragement and rewards.  The actual exercises range from body combat, through treadmills and bikes, triathlon was, cycling, strength training and cardio resistance training.

Goal setting and monitoring were the main activities designed to modify behaviour, and students were reminded to do this at each session.  Self efficacy was enhanced through practical exercise skills and appropriate goal setting.  Outcome expectancy focused on positive outcomes and avoiding negative consequences, and increasing enjoyment (.e,g, exercising with music and/or friends’ 310).  Peer support was encouraged, as was support from family.  Students in the intervention group were also given pedometers so they could monitor and set goals.  [The obsessive description of the equipment follows, complete with solemn correlations between using particular pedometers and consuming oxygen]. 

The items and scales are detailed in table two.  They include statements to agree or disagree with such as ‘I set goals to do physical activities’; questions such as ‘Do your friends encourage you to do physical activities or play sport’ [classic mistake here having two questions in one]; and statement elicitation devices such as completing ‘if I participate in regular physical activity…’ (312).

Results indicated, as shown, an increase in physical activity but no changes in the determinants, at for low and active adolescents.  In particular, peer support and exercise self efficacy showed no change, and only small and insignificant changes the self management, outcome expectancy and enjoyment.

Discussion suggests that the intervention might not have been long enough, especially as ‘cognition this related to physical activity may be more stable than the behaviour itself’ [supported by a reference, a particularly obscure one in this case].  The longer term programmes, such as LEAP, which do operate over a longer period, had to show that enjoyment and self efficacy does increase.  Another [excuse] is that the young adolescents are less cognitively developed, and therefore unable to reflect is effectively and think abstractly.  Finally, the authors admit that just being provided with the pedometers could have had an effect, although they do not see this as a Hawthorne effect, but rather because pedometers themselves lead to increased walking.  Other limitations include modifications after one school withdrew.

Overall, while the effects of determinants is still unknown, the study was very worthwhile, and indicates ‘that extracurricular school sport offers a unique potential for the promotion of physical activity’ [where the hell was this supported in the evidence?].  More research is needed, especially on multi-component interventions.

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