What is the study about?
This study examined whether the Fitness Improves Thinking in Kids (FITKids) after-school program improves executive control (maintaining focus, performing multiple cognitive processes), increases aerobic fitness, and lowers body mass index (BMI) in students ages 7–9. The study authors randomly assigned 221 students either to participate in FITKids at a University of Illinois facility or to be in a comparison group that did not participate in FITKids during the study period.
FITKids sessions were held after each school day for 2 hours over 9 months. Each session consisted of 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, a healthy snack, and an educational component about health.
The study authors measured executive control before and after the FITKids program by assessing students’ accuracy and response time on two tasks. The first task (“attentional inhibition task”) required students to resist distracting information; in this task, children were repeatedly shown an array of fish and asked to identify whether the middle fish faced left or right.
The second task (“cognitive flexibility task”) required students to perform multiple cognitive duties at the same time; in this task, children were repeatedly shown a blue or green circle or square and asked to determine either the shape or the color. The easier portion of this task included a constant instruction to identify the shape or the color. The harder portion of this task included changing instructions to identify either the shape or the color.
What did the study report?
The study authors found that the FITKids program led to a statistically significant improvement in aerobic fitness. The study authors also found that the BMIs for students in FITKids increased by a smaller amount than the BMIs for students who were not in FITKids, and this difference was statistically significant.
Lastly, the study authors found that FITKids increased accuracy in the attentional inhibition task and accuracy in the harder portion of the cognitive flexibility task.
How does the WWC rate this study?
This study is a well-executed randomized controlled trial with low attrition, and as such,meets WWC standards without reservations. A more thorough review (forthcoming) will report more fully on the study’s results.
Hillman, C. H., Pontifex, M. B., Castelli, D. M., Khan, N. A., Raine, L. B., Scudder, M. R., Kamijo, K. (2014). Effects of the FITKids randomized controlled trial on executive control and brain function. Pediatrics, 134(4), 1062–1071.