Theses Doctoral

Increasing Physical Activity in Elementary School Classrooms

Hecht, Mindy Feldman

The benefits of physical activity (PA) for children are well-researched and extend into the realms of physical health, mental health and executive function (EF). Nonetheless, most U.S. children fail to meet the recommended target of daily PA. Although elementary schools can provide an ideal setting for PA, school-based PA time has been reduced in favor of increased sedentary instructional time. This contradicts research that supports the role of PA in enhancing students’ EF and academic achievement. Moreover, low-income and minority populations have inequitable access to school-based PA opportunities. For these reasons, researchers and public health officials have proposed integrating additional opportunities for PA during the school day, including classroom-based active breaks. This dissertation aims to study existing U.S. classroom-based active break programs, examine the feasibility of implementing a classroom-based active break program and analyze the impact of an integrated program on both PA and EF, all among underserved, minority populations.

This dissertation includes four chapters in total. The second chapter is a systematic review that evaluated the impact of school-based PA interventions on children’s PA, with a focus on diverse populations. The third chapter describes a pilot study that assessed the feasibility of implementing a classroom PA program (HYPE) in a diverse urban setting. Teacher and student acceptability of HYPE were evaluated, as well as HYPE’s impact on student PA. HYPE was feasible and well-received, although time and space were challenges. Children’s median step count/day increased.

The waitlist-control study presented in Chapter IV examined whether a multifaceted program (“POWER”) that incorporates both PA and EF would impact fifth graders positively. We also investigated whether POWER could assist teachers with classroom behavioral management. Overall, the positive changes in the intervention group and their favorable reception of POWER demonstrate the ability of POWER to improve children’s socioemotional, mental and physical health.

Altogether, these studies highlight the potential for school-based PA interventions to improve the holistic wellbeing of children, particularly low-income, minority youth. Interventions that incorporate a teacher-led, multimodal approach to improving children’s PA and EF synergistically may be well-received by administrators, teachers and students and help children adopt healthy, lifelong habits.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Hecht_tc.columbia_0055E_11059.pdf Hecht_tc.columbia_0055E_11059.pdf application/pdf 2.29 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Biobehavioral Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Garber, Carol Ewing
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2020