Evaluation of a school-based physical activity intervention in Alexandra Township

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South African Journal of Sport Medicine

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University of Cape Town

Objectives. Non-communicable diseases and limited participation in school physical education have become increasing concerns in South Africa. In response to these concerns, a schoolbased physical activity intervention, Healthnutz, was implemented in three primary schools in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg. Evaluation of Healthnutz included assessing its feasibility and acceptability, and short-term changes in learners’ physical fitness, knowledge and attitudes. Methods. To assess feasibility and acceptability, a situational analysis and focus groups with teachers and programme monitors were conducted. Pre-post fitness testing (3-month interval) was conducted with learners, and a questionnaire assessed changes in learners’ knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and perceived barriers to physical activity, in control and intervention schools. Results. At implementation, teachers identified the need for more physical activity in the school environment and were positive about Healthnutz. Follow-up focus group discussions suggested that it was positively impacting teachers, learners and the school in general. Scores for sit and reach (p<0.001), sit ups (p<0.02) and shuttle run (p<0.0001) improved significantly in intervention but not control schools. A significant decrease was observed in learners’ perceived external barriers to physical activity (p<0.0001) along with a positive change in learners’ self-efficacy for physical activity (p<0.05). Conclusions. Healthnutz raised awareness of the importance of physical activity in intervention schools. Findings indicate that even limited exposure to a physical activity intervention can lead to a significant improvement in aspects of learners’ fitness, knowledge, attitudes and perceptions regarding physical activity. Furthermore, training and support of teachers needs to be nonjudgemental and empowering.