5 SPARK Studies That Highlight the Importance of Physical Education


An elementary school boy does push ups in PE class

Recent studies continue to prove how effective physical education is for both the mental and physical development of children. In this blog post, we are going to highlight a handful of studies completed by SPARK, or were undertaken using SPARK principles or using the SPARK program, that have provided a valuable contribution to the research and helped confirm the benefits of PE lessons. As an educator, you’re sure to be inspired to try new initiatives and take full advantage of this powerful school subject.

1. The Healthy for Life Study

The Healthy for Life program began as a response to the rising levels of obesity in the US. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, around 33.6% children were obese or overweight when it began. The goal was to promote long-lasting healthy behaviors in children to reduce their chances of long-term health issues.

Combined with the SPARK curriculum, the study assessed 1,469 students in the 2008-2009 school year, and found that the Healthy for Life program was effective at achieving its goal. While all students saw an increase in BMI over the year because their bodies were still developing, students who were obese or overweight drastically reduced their BMI levels – and improved their self-esteem, too.

2. The Effects of Health-Related Physical Education on Academic Performance

Project SPARK was launched to determine the impact of physical education on the academic performance of students over a 2-year period. The study took place in a single school district, at seven K-5 schools. During the research, scientists placed each school into one of three conditions: the SPARK program condition, the control condition, and the trained teacher condition. The SPARK program conditions included:

  1. The Specialist taught SPARK
  2. Classroom teachers were trained to implement SPARK
  3. Control

The study found significant improvements in test scores among students who had a PE program, indicating that achievement test scores for participating schools greatly exceeded the national average at baseline (range: 5.5-80.9). Nevertheless, significant differences between experimental conditions were detected. Additionally, the research proved that participation in physical education did not interfere with academic achievement and that it may have favorable effects on academic achievement.

3. Successful Dissemination of Fun 5

Since most experts agree that physical activity combined with regular fruit and vegetable consumption can contribute to a reduced risk of chronic disease, Successful Dissemination of Fun 5 highlighted the benefits of the “Fun 5” program on school students. The “Fun 5” method uses the SPARK curriculum, introducing physical activity, nutrition, and sustainability components to the after school students.

The results of the study saw a positive uptake in the “Fun 5” program, and strongly suggested that such programs may be able to improve the health and fitness of students. Each year, the sites studied achieved pre-established goals. What’s more, students began to incorporate nutrition and fitness strategies into their own lives, improving their chances of long-term sustainable health.

4. Effects of Physical Education Programs on Child Manipulative Skills

In this study by McKenzie et al, researchers studied the impact of the SPARK curriculum on the manipulation skills of 4th and 5th graders. The research looked at three manipulative skills — throwing, kicking, and catching — and scientists gave raw scores for “total skills” at the end of the evaluation.

The results of the study demonstrated the importance of learning fundamental motor skills in early life to boost and support physical health in the future. The research indicated that “quality” PE programs for developing manipulative skills are essential, while some students were naturally more skilled than others. The study also found that modifications to a PE program can directly improve student motor skills.

5. Impact of After-School Programs on Obesity

A study conducted on the effect of park-based after-school programs on participant obesity risk was used to assess how effective structured after-school programs could be in improving health and wellness outcomes for students. At SPARK, afterschool programs are designed to provide children and adolescents ages 5-14 with inclusive, highly active movement opportunities that foster social and motor development while maximizing time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity and fitness pursuits. This is why we offer a range of curriculum suggestions.

This study found that after-school programs could act as a significant resource for combatting childhood obesity and improving positive attitudes towards children’s health. The obese group significantly decreased their BMI score and blood sugar, and all participants boosted their knowledge of health and wellness from the previous school year.

Visit SPARK’s resources page today to discover even more of our breakthrough studies in the field of physical education.

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  • Jackson Dickerson

    Physical education is a vital part to all aspects of education. Not only does physical education help develop healthy youth, but also has benefits for core classes in our schools. When students are active, the chances that they will be successful in classes such as math, science, and reading are much better.