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Middle School Physical Activity and Nutrition (MSPAN)

Program Synopsis

Designed to increase physical activity and improve dietary habits among grade 6-8 level students, this school-based intervention consists of new physical education (PE) curricula, efficient use of PE equipment and space, training for PE staff to improve instructional skills and create action plans that promote physical activity, and training for nutrition services staff to create plans that reduce the fat content in school foods. The study showed an increase in physical activity and a decrease in body mass index (BMI).

Program Highlights

Purpose: Designed to increase physical activity and promote healthy dietary habits among Grade 6-8 level students (2004).
Age: 11-18 Years (Adolescents)
Sex: Female, Male
Race/Ethnicity: This information has not been reported.
Program Focus: Behavior Modification
Population Focus: School Children
Program Area: Physical Activity, Diet/Nutrition
Delivery Location: School (K-College)
Community Type: This information has not been reported.
Program Materials

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Program Scores

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Although regular physical activity and healthy eating are important parts of a healthy lifestyle, most adolescents in the United States do not meet the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for physical activity or consumption of fatty foods. Although ecological models of behavior state that the structure of an environment can promote physical activity and healthy eating, there is little existing research on environmental and policy interventions to promote these behaviors in schools. 

The Middle-School Physical Activity and Nutrition (M-SPAN) intervention is designed to increase physical activity, encourage healthy eating, and decrease body mass in boys and girls in middle school. The program includes both physical activity and nutrition components. The physical activity component consists of multiple parts; some of which include:

  • New physical education (PE) curricula
  • Using PE equipment and space efficiently
  • Training for PE and recreation staff to help improve instructional skills and create action plans that promote physical activity in PE class and throughout the school day

The nutrition component includes training for staff in child nutrition services to help:

  • Create plans to reduce fat content in foods provided at schools
  • Identify and work with food vendors who can provide low-fat foods to schools

The development and evaluation of M-SPAN resulted in the creation of a curriculum called SPARK (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids), that is presented in a manual and is currently available to school systems along with training and consultation services.

This program uses an intervention approach recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force: enhanced school-based physical education interventions (Physical Activity).

The time required to implement M-SPAN may vary, based on the setting. The developers offer 1- and 2-day trainings with ongoing consultation.

The intended audience for training includes all who work with students in middle schools. These include PE teachers, food service workers, parents, and other school officials who work with students in grades 6-8 (approximate ages 12-14 years).

The intervention is suitable for implementation in school settings.

Resources required include the SPARK curriculum binder, which costs $89, and provides:

  • The scope and sequence for a variety of instructional units
  • Sample assessment tools
  • Implementation advice
  • Instructions on promoting activity during leisure time at school
  • Other tools

The PE equipment for the program activities is commonly found in schools.  They may be purchased in packages that serve up to 40 students.  See

Training workshops of 1 day and 2 days are also available.  See

M-SPAN was evaluated using a randomized control group research design involving 24 middle schools in Southern California over a 2-year study period. Twelve schools were assigned to the treatment condition, and 12 schools were assigned to a no-treatment control condition. Approximately 25,000 students attended the 24 schools, and 45 percent of the students were described as non-White. The outcomes were the amount of moderately vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in PE classes and during leisure time at school, self-reported height and weight (used to calculate body mass index [BMI]), and fat intake. The measures included direct observation by extensively trained and supervised observers using the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time (SOFIT). The units of measurement included total minutes that students engaged in physical activity.

The findings of this study indicate that male students in M-SPAN schools increased their physical activity over the course of the 2-year study. Key findings include:

  • From baseline to year 2, intervention schools increased MVPA by 18 percent, compared to a 3 percent increase in control schools (p<.05). Male students in M-SPAN schools increased the amount of time they engaged in MVPA in PE classes (i.e., approximately 3 minutes per PE lesson), while male students in control schools remained relatively stable over the 2 years of the study (p<.05). Female students in M-SPAN schools, however, did not exhibit a statistically significant increase in MVPA in PE classes, relative to female students in control schools.

Graph of Study Results


  • Male students in M-SPAN schools increased physical activity in PE classes and during leisure time at school at a greater rate than control schools over 2 years. The computation of this physical activity outcome variable was an estimate of kilocalorie (kcal) energy expenditure per day per child, based on systematic observations of physical activity in and out of PE class. Over 2 years, boys in the intervention group increased energy expenditure by 18.82 kcal in PE class and 22.31 kcal out of PE classes (total=41.13), compared to increases of 0.23 kcal and 11.47 kcal, respectively, for boys in the control group (total=11.7; p<.01). Physical activity energy increases for girls were not statistically significant.

Graph of Study Results


  • Boys in M-SPAN schools reported a 0.28 reduction in BMI (km/m2) compared to a 0.36 increase reported by control-school boys (p<.05).

Graph of Study Results


  • There were no statistically significant findings for decreased intake of fatty foods at school. Further, no statistically significant findings were found among the girls across all the nutritional measures.

Sallis, J.F., McKenzie, T.L., Conway, T.L., Elder, J.P., Prochaska, J.J., Brown, M. Zive, M.M., Marshall, S.J., & Alcaraz, J.E. (2003). Environmental interventions for eating and physical activity: A randomized controlled trial in middle schools. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 24(3), 209-217.

Conway, T. L., Sallis, J. F., Pelletier, R. L., Powers, H. S., Marshall, S. J., Zive, M. M., & Elder, J. P. (2002). What do middle school children bring in their bag lunches? Preventive Medicine, 34, 422-427.

Hoefer, W. R., McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, J. F., Marshall, S. J., & Conway, T. L. (2001). Parental provision of transportation for adolescent physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 21(1), 48-51.

McKenzie, T. L., Marshall, S. J., Sallis, J. F., & Conway, T. L. (2000). Leisure-time physical activity in school environments: An observational study using SOPLAY. Prevention Medicine, 30, 70-77.

McKenzie, T. L., Marshall, S. J., Sallis, J. F., & Conway, T. L. (2000). Student activity levels, lesson context, and teacher behavior during middle school physical education. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71(3), 249-259.

McKenzie, T. L., Prochaska, J. J., Sallis, J. F., & LaMaster, K. J. (2004). Coeducational and single-sex physical education in middle schools: Impact on physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 75(4), 446-449.

McKenzie, T. L. Sallis, J. F. & Nader, P. R. (1991). SOFIT: System for observing fitness instruction time. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 11, 195-205.

Powers, H. S., Conway, T. L., McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, J. F., & Marshall, S. J. (2002). Participation in extracurricular physical activity programs at middle schools. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 73(2), 187-192.

Wildey, M. B., Pampalone, S. Z., Pelletier, R. L., Zive, M. M., Elder, J. P., & Sallis, J. P. (2000). Fat and sugar levels are high in snacks purchased from student stores in middle schools. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100(3), 319-322.

Zive, M. M., Elder, J. P., Prochaska, J. J., Conway, T. L., Pelletier, R. L., Marshall, S., & Sallis, J. F. (2002). Sources of dietary fat in middle schools. Preventive Medicine, 35, 376-382.

Zive, M. M., Pelletier, R. Sallis, J. F., & Elder, J. P. (2002). An environmental intervention to improve a la carte foods at middle school. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 102(3 Suppl), S76-S78.


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Updated: 01/25/2024