Physical activity programmes such as The Daily Mile™ can be part of the way that schools deal with childhood obesity, but needs to be part of a much wider population strategy designed to tackle this challenge. Our latest research shows that over twelve-months, children who regularly took part in The Daily Mile showed signs of gaining less excess weight when compared to children who did not participate in The Daily Mile and whilst this effect was small at the individual level, could have an important impact at the population level. The study also showed signs that it was more effective in girls than boys.
Childhood obesity increases children’s risk of health problems and reduces their quality of life. Latest figures show that one in four 11-year old children are suffering from being overweight or obese in England. The causes of childhood obesity are complex and questions have been asked over what schools can do to help tackle this problem.
In England we know that children are not being physically active often enough or for long enough and this is contributing to rising obesity rates. It is recommended that children aged 5 to 18 years should be moderately active e.g. cycling or playground activities, for at least 60 minutes every day and schools have been identified as suitable places to promote physical activity. One such programme is The Daily Mile™ which encourages children to either jog or run for around 15 minutes every school day which on average equates to approximately one mile and is in addition to scheduled physical education lessons and timetabled break times.
Our latest research, published in the International Journal of Obesity, compared children attending schools who participated in The Daily Mile with children who attended schools who did not do the Daily Mile. All schools were instructed to continue with their usual activities. We recruited 2280 children from 40 primary schools located in Birmingham and randomly allocated schools to either ‘The Daily Mile’ group or ‘No Changes (Control)’ group. Over 12- months, children in both sets of schools gained weight but those who attended The Daily Mile schools gained less weight than children who attended the Control schools. Although at the individual level this difference was small, we believe this provides evidence that The Daily Mile could form an important part of a population strategy to tackling obesity. Even if The Daily Mile prevents a small amount of excess weight gain for each child, when considered at a population level this is an important contribution towards shifting whole population risk and presents an opportunity for schools to be part of a ‘system-approach’ to tackling childhood obesity.
Some other interesting findings emerged from the study. We found some evidence to suggest that The Daily Mile might be more effective in girls compared to boys. And although we are not certain of the reasons why this was the case, we do know that as girls get older, they become less active compared to boys. The Daily Mile might have more potential for impact on girls when compared to boys and it is important that future research explores this differential effect further.
We also measured the cost-effectiveness of The Daily Mile. The Daily Mile is often cited as a no or very low-cost intervention. No equipment is required and running or walking is commonly regarded as a ‘free-sport’. However, it takes place during ‘lesson-time’ and requires school staff supervision time. These costs were considered in our analysis and we found that over 12 months The Daily Mile cost an average of £47 per child. When these costs were offset against quality of life improvements we found The Daily Mile was cost-effective in the whole sample, and highly cost-effective in girls. Again, there were different results in boys and girls and we would encourage future research to explore this further.
So, what might stop schools from adopting The Daily Mile™? We found that in our study, The Daily Mile was not always conducted daily. Schools reported other priorities such as Statutory Assessment Test (SAT) revision and challenges with maintaining motivation when running the same route daily. The focus on academic attainment may distract from the wider social and economic benefits of being part of preventing childhood obesity. While this is understandable given the wider framework on how schools are assessed, it may miss a vital opportunity for schools to be part of an important movement towards reducing childhood obesity.