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Can Recess Replace Ritalin? Preliminary Findings from a Classroom-based Physical Activity Program

By Lisa Seaberg on 6/24/2010

DERBY, CT (June 24, 2010) - Maybe recess can at times substitute for Ritalin, and related medications used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study just published in the July edition of Preventing Chronic Disease.

Despite well documented evidence that physical activity is beneficial to children, average fitness levels of US children have been on the decline. And while schools understand the health benefits of exercise, they are often faced with limited time available to dedicate to non-academic activities. Dr. David Katz and colleagues at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center have developed a program that brings short bouts of physical activity into the existing classroom setting thereby circumventing the need to try to find time in an already overcrowded curriculum to add new classes.

Dr. Katz, Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, has long harangued diverse audiences that rambunctiousness in children should be treated with something more like recess, and less like Ritalin. Katz' rant on this topic has been inspired by the steady decrease in school-based physical activity and the steady increase in the rate of ADHD over recent years.

Now, there are preliminary data to suggest benefit of school-based daily activity in children, including decreased need for Ritalin and asthma medications as well as improvements in some physical fitness measures. In a controlled evaluation of Katz' ABC for Fitness program in the 13 elementary schools of the Independence, Missouri School District, there was a 33% reduction in the number of children receiving medication for ADHD in the intervention schools, as compared to only a 7% reduction over the same period in the control schools. Standardized test scores remained constant.

"Our data suggest that by fitting physical activity into the school day where it fits, you can promote fitness, preserve or promote academic performance, and introduce other health benefits into the bargain. Our finding with regard to ADHD is certainly preliminary, and requires further testing before we trust it completely," said Dr. Katz. "But the trend is clear enough, and conforms entirely to intuition, and our hypothesis that in some cases, what could be the normal rambunctiousness of childhood morphs into pathology because of the very abnormal conditions to which we subject kids these days. It is, quite simply, normal for kids to run around. With pressure to focus on standardized tests related in part to the 'No Child Left Behind' legislation, we have been leaving all of the children ON their behinds! In fact, we take naturally kinetic kids, bolt them to chairs all day long- then wonder why we wind up with adults we can't get off couches with crowbars!"

The ABC for Fitness program is available to all, free of charge, at (http://davidkatzmd.com/abcforfitness.aspx). The program offers a detailed manual on providing brief bouts of physical activity throughout the day, right in the classroom. It is designed to replace 'down time' in the classroom, that would be squandered on discipline, rather than reduce teaching time. In fact, the program materials include details on how to teach during the activity bursts, and thus there is the potential for a net increase in total daily teaching time. "We are just thrilled to be implementing this program in our schools," said Dr. Jim Hinson, Superintendent of the Independence, Missouri School District. Building activity bursts into our curriculum has proven successful on many levels. In addition to decreasing students' need for medication, ABC for Fitness has improved students' concentration and decreased discipline levels in the classroom. It has affected the health and wellness of students, and that has created a mindset of wellness for staff and administrators as well."

The study of the ABC for Fitnes program was funded by a grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, based in Missouri, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center (PRC) was established in 1998 through funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). One of 37 such centers nationwide representing academic/community partnerships, the Yale-Griffin PRC is engaged in interdisciplinary applied prevention research in collaboration with community partners, federal, state, and local health and education agencies, and other universities. The goal the PRC is to develop innovative approaches to health promotion and disease prevention that will directly benefit the public's health, first locally, and then nationally. For more information, please visit www.yalegriffinprc.org.

About the Independence School District:

The Independence School District of Independence Missouri (ISD) is a leader in offering innovative and sophisticated programs to its students. ISD is committed to a school based delivery approach to comprehensive education and family services to approximately 14,000 students. This strategy identifies services that can be braided and delivered through schools to provide quality educational experiences to students and families. True to this model, ISD has woven both nutrition and fitness education throughout the school day to educate students, their families, and the larger community as a whole.

About Dr. Katz:

David L. Katz MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is an internationally recognized authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and Associate Professor (adjunct) in Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine. Katz is the Director and founder of The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, CT, and founder and president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation. Katz has published over 100 scientific papers and chapters, and 11 books to date; he has acquired and managed some $25 million in research funds. He is a medical journalist, having formerly served as a medical contributor to ABC News with routine appearances on Good Morning America. He is currently the nutrition columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine; a health columnist for the New York Times Syndicate; and an editorial advisor and blogger for Prevention Magazine. Katz has twice been recognized by the Consumers Research Council of America as one of America's top physicians in preventive medicine. He is the principal inventor of the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI) algorithm.


Dr. David Katz, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center
katzdl@pol.net; (203) 732-1265