High rates of adolescent obesity and its associated co-morbidities have been attributed to a lack of physical activity and unhealthy nutrition habits. This is especially apparent during the summer months, when adolescents are out of school and do not have the structure of the academic year and its planned extracurricular activities. The Translational Health in Nutrition and Kinesiology (THINK) program is a nutrition and exercise science curriculum that is interfaced with social emotional learning (SEL) to enhance to personal health and lifestyle behaviors in middle school youth. The purpose of this study is to determine whether the THINK program could improve physical fitness, nutrition habits, and SEL in a 6-week summer program across a 3 year period.
Participants from the South Miami community were enrolled in the THINK (n =108, 58 males, 50 females, 12.03 +.56 years). The assessments of physical fitness included: cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) using the Pacer test, flexibility using the Sit & Reach test, power using the Vertical Jump test, agility using the Shuttle Run, and muscular endurance using the Curl-up test. Body composition was analyzed using the Inbody 520 and SEL was measured using the Positive Youth Inventory. Food habits were measured using the Adolescent Food Habits Checklist. Means and standard error values were evaluated for all dependent variables. Paired sample t-tests (SPSS version 27) were performed to determine changes in dependent variables over time.
Significant improvements in CFF (p<.001), power (p<.006), flexibility (p<.001), agility (p<.001), muscular endurance (p<.001), lean body mass (p<.001) Food Habits (p<.001), and SEL (p=.038) were found.
An integrative and physically active summer program can result in improvements in physical fitness, nutrition habits, and SEL in as little as 6-weeks. The emphasis on physical activities in combination with nutrition, science and SEL in programs such the THINK program may serve as novel approach for improving physical fitness and lifestyle behaviors in middle school adolescents during the summer months. Future studies should include control groups to determine whether these changes occur independent of typical maturation and developmental processes in youth.
First author's contact: J.Bonner1@umiami.edu