The project involved several primary school classes in which the pupils participated in physical education on a daily basis, equivalent to a little more than three hours a week - instead of one.
The study included the final grades of the more than 630 pupils. These pupils had physical education on a daily basis in years 1–9 in school during the period 2003–2012. The grades were then compared to a control group of pupils from similar schools in the same local area, as well as with ninth graders from all around the country (approximately 1.1 million pupils). The studies do not prove causation, but a number of possible sources of error in demographics and socioeconomics were avoided through the design of the research project.
The results showed that the boys who participated in daily physical education in schools performed significantly better compared to the control group. Their grades improved by 13 points on average (out of a maximum 320 points) according to the grading system at the time. These improved results also meant that the proportion of boys who qualified for upper-secondary school increased by 7 per cent. When compared to the rest of the country, the differences were even greater.
“Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school. And increased upper-secondary school qualification among pupils is of major preventive value. Boys who don’t move on to upper-secondary school face an uncertain future and are at greater risk of getting into trouble”, says Jesper Fritz, doctoral student at Lund University and physician at the Skåne University Hospital in Malmö.
So what about the girls? Here it was not possible to see a clear difference. Jesper Fritz believes that this is probably due to the fact that girls have much better grades than boys even without daily physical education. The development potential here is probably significantly lower, according to Jesper Fritz and his colleagues who would like to see the phenomenon studied more closely.
However, girls benefit from more physical activity as well. In his thesis work, Jesper Fritz has included a seven-year follow-up of how bone mass and muscle strength is affected in pupils with daily physical education in school, within the scope of the project.
“My results reinforce previous observations. The pupils who received daily physical education in school had higher bone mass and more muscle strength, and the impact is stronger among girls compared to boys. The new and interesting aspect of my study is that the effects appear to persist even after puberty, when the body is undergoing major changes”, says Jesper Fritz.
The current results also show that although the risk of fracture is slightly elevated in the beginning, it decreases in the long term. Sweden has adopted a mandatory minimum of one hour (60 minutes) of physical education a week for primary school pupils. Only a few schools devote more time than that to physical activity, and the idea of adding more physical education to the curricula is sometimes criticised – partly for taking time away from other teaching, and partly because previous studies have shown that it increases the risk of fracture.
“The counter arguments have been invalidated. Our studies show that girls and boys with more physical education on their daily timetables experience a better physical development. The boys also had better grades”, Jesper Fritz concludes.
Jesper Fritz defended his thesis “Physical Activity during Growth – Effects on Bone, Muscle, Fracture Risk and Academic Performance” at Lund University on 13 January 2017
Jesper Fritz, doctoral student at the Department of Clinical Sciences in Malmö, Lund University, and physician at the Skåne University Hospital in Malmö
+46 73 626 62 94
jesper [dot] fritz [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se
The Bunkeflo project started in the autumn of 1999 at the school Ängslättskolan in the Bunkeflo district of the third largest city in Sweden, Malmö. The project includes schools, associations and research.
The pupils have participated in daily physical activity, and various research groups have performed measurements and observations on the children. The studies have included examining the pupils’ bone mass, muscle strength, and oral health, as well as their motor skills, concentration and study performance.
The research on the results from the Bunkeflo project continues. Among other things, the studies of the relationship between physical activity in school and grades/performance have been expanded. Within the next few years, there are also plans for a study of the adult health of the children of the Bunkeflo project.