November 16, 2018
2 min read

After-school program improves physical fitness, not BMI in minority youths

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An after-school education intervention for minority youth in Florida was associated with improved physical fitness and nutrition knowledge, but failed to reduce BMI or increase physical activity levels when compared with controls, according to findings from a pilot study presented here.

Emily Flanagan

“We can see that minority children are driving up the rates of obesity in our youth today and we believe that deserves special attention, especially since we know that minorities, particularly Hispanic and non-Hispanic black adults, have higher rates of cardiovascular metabolic diseases,” Emily Flanagan, MS, doctoral candidate of exercise physiology at the University of Miami, said during a presentation at ObesityWeek 2018.

Flanagan and colleagues developed a program to address this issue, termed the Translational Health in Nutrition and Kinesiology, or THINK program, conducted for 5 months (January to May) in two randomly assigned public schools of Miami-Dade County in Florida. Students participated 3 days per week after school from 3 to 5 p.m. in the program, which included a 15- to 20-minute educational session, hands-on clinical experiences and relevant physical activities.

Primary goals included decreasing adiposity levels and BMI and improving other physical fitness markers like aerobic fitness, agility, strength and muscular endurance, as well as nutritional and physical activity knowledge and behavior. The researchers partnered with the South Florida YMCA to select four elementary schools for pilot analysis, including two schools with a majority Hispanic student population (> 60%) and two with a primarily non-Hispanic black student population (> 60%). Two of the four schools were randomly assigned to the THINK program intervention (n = 43), with the remaining two schools used as a control group (n = 30). A total of 73 students aged 8 to 12 years were included.

After 5 months, Flanagan and colleagues found that the students in the THINK program improved aerobic fitness, agility and strength vs. controls (P .05). Researchers also observed positive changes in muscular endurance, flexibility and lower-body power that did not rise to significance for the THINK program students.

“We were very excited to see these changes in aerobic fitness, since we know that cardiovascular fitness tends to track into adulthood,” Flanagan said. “We were really excited that we could actually see these changes being established early on.”

The researchers also failed to establish a significant connection between the program and BMI; however, there were between-group differences in triceps skinfold measurements (–2.18 mm in THINK vs. +2.83 mm in controls) and subscapular skinfold measurements (–1.74 mm in THINK vs. +1.65 mm in controls; P .05).


Nutritional and physical activity knowledge, assessed via questionnaire, also improved in the THINK group, whereas nutrition and physical activity behaviors did not (P .05). Still, nutrition knowledge, dietary and physical behaviors scores were 6.13% higher in the THINK group vs. controls (P < .01), according to researchers.

“Interventions targeting education with physical activity could be a means to improve not only physical fitness levels but the knowledge that students are bringing home about nutrition,” Flanagan told Endocrine Today. “They need to get their bodies working and they need to be doing the physical activity.”

As the THINK program continues to develop, additional strategies are being explored, including working with behavioral psychologists, increasing physical literacy, improving parental involvement, creating similar programs for older students and making the program more sustainable, Flanagan said. – by Phil Neuffer


Flanagan E, et al. T-OR-2032. Presented at: ObesityWeek 2018; Nov. 11-15, 2018; Nashville, Tenn.

Disclosure: Flanagan reports no relevant financial disclosures.