Children who engage in regular physical activity are protected from developing behavioral problems at home and school, but many children do not have the opportunity to participate in regular physical activity. The purpose of this study was to determine whether a noncurricular school-based physical activity program resulted in reductions in children’s psychological problems in 2 domains: internalizing (eg, depression) and externalizing (eg, aggression) and whether these effects varied according to ethnicity, gender, and baseline psychological symptoms.
One hundred and eleven third-grade students (mean age = 8.47; 55% African American, 42% Latino) from 4 schools participated in the study. Children in 2 schools received the Work to Play physical activity intervention during the study (intervention condition) and children in the other 2 schools did not receive the program until after the study was complete (waitlist control condition). Teachers and parents reported on children’s psychological symptoms at baseline and at follow-up approximately 9 months later.
Regression analyses showed that children who participated in the program had fewer internalizing symptoms at follow-up. Ethnicity moderated intervention effects with significant decreases in internalizing symptoms for African American, but not Hispanic participants. Neither gender nor baseline psychological symptoms moderated the program’s effectiveness.
The Work-to-Play intervention program appeared to be effective in reducing internalizing symptoms for ethnic minority participants who are at the greatest risk for psychological problems.