Scheduling more physical education time in schools does not mean children will increase their activity levels at home, a new study has found.
The study discovered that those who got lots of timetabled exercise at school compensated by doing less at home while those who got little at school made up for it by being more active at home.
The scientists, who presented their research on Thursday at the European Congress on Obesity, found that the total weekly physical activity among children attending different schools was much the same despite large differences in the amount of time allocated to physical education.
The researchers propose it's not the environment that drives physical activity levels in children, but some form of central control in the brain similar to appetite.
"These findings have implications for anti-obesity policies because they challenge the assumption that creating more opportunity for children to be active - by providing more playgrounds, sports facilities and more physical education time in schools - will mean more physical activity," Eurekaalert quoted study's analyst, Alissa Fremeaux, a biostatistician at Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth, Britain, as saying.
"If health strategists want to alter the physical activity of children, it is important that they first understand what controls it."
The researchers studied 206 children from three primary schools with widely different amounts of timetabled physical education. Children attending one school got on average 9.2 hours a week of scheduled physical education, while those at the second school got 2.4 hours a week and those at the third got just 1.7 hours in a week.
The researchers found that although the children attending the high-physical education school did 40 per cent more activity during school hours than the other children, their total weekly activity was no different from the others.
"There was, of course, a range in the amount of activity the children did at each school, but the range and it's average were the same regardless of what school they went to. We discovered that the children who got a lot of physical education time at school were compensating by doing less at home, while those who got very little physical education time compensated by cranking up their activity at home, so that over the week, they all accumulated the same amount," Fremeaux said.