Objective: This review provides the first meta-analysis of the effects of physically active lessons on lesson-time and overall physical activity (PA), as well as health, cognition and educational outcomes.
Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Six meta-analyses pooled effects on lesson-time PA, overall PA, in-class educational and overall educational outcomes, cognition and health outcomes. Meta-analyses were conducted using the metafor package in R. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane tool for risk of bias. Data sources: PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, ERIC and Web of Science, grey literature and reference lists were searched in December 2017 and April 2019. Studies eligibility criteria: Physically active lessons compared to a control group in a randomised or non-randomised design, within single component interventions in general school populations.
Results: 42 studies (39 in preschool or elementary school settings, 27 randomised controlled trials) were eligible for inclusion in the systematic review and 37 of them were included across the six meta-analyses (n=12,663). Physically active lessons were found to produce large, significant increases in lesson-time PA (d=2.33; 95%CI 1.42, 3.25: k=16) and small, significant effects on overall PA (d= 0.32, 95%CI 0.18, 0.46: k=8). A large, significant effect was shown on lesson-time educational outcomes (d=0.81; 95%CI 0.47, 1.14: k=7) and a small, significant effect on overall educational outcomes (d=0.36, 95%CI [0.09, 0.63], k=25). No effects were seen on cognitive (k=3) or health outcomes (k=3). 25/42 studies had high risk of bias in at least 2 domains.
Conclusion: In elementary and preschool settings, when physically active lessons were added into the curriculum they had a positive impact on both physical activity and educational outcomes. These findings support policy initiatives encouraging the incorporation of physically active lessons into teaching in elementary and preschool settings.