A low amount of physical activity paired with frequent consumption of fatty foods has been reported to increase childhood obesity in the United States to epidemic proportions. Researchers have further concluded that many of the problems associated with obesity continue into adulthood, leading to serious nationwide health problems. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of a music exercise and educational program across 6 weeks on (a) BMI-for-age percentile, (b) waist circumference, and (c) attitudes about exercise in elementary school aged children in the normal, overweight and obese weight ranges. Changes in attitude about school, knowledge of nutritional education and off-task behavior were also explored. Blood pressure and heart rate were measured to aid monitoring for safety.
A music-based curriculum designed to increase children’s physical activities and to provide nutrition education was created for this study. The music intervention program met 3 times a week for 6 weeks. A pilot study was conducted to test the protocols for effectiveness. Upon completion of the pilot, twenty-nine 3rd and 4th grade students (Female=25 and Male=4) who attended a local elementary school consented to participate in the current study. The research used an ABA design and results were analyzed graphically. Dependent variables included: (a) physiological measures for BMI-for-age and waist circumference, (b) a researcher-created Likerttype scale assessing participant attitudes about school and the music intervention, (c) a researchercreated questionnaire assessing participants’ nutritional knowledge, and (d) behavioral observations of off-task behavior.
Graphic analysis suggested that some changes in the children’s physiological measurements occurred. Overall, the mean BMI-for-age percentile from baseline to the music intervention decreased 1.7 percentile. Analysis of mean BMI-for-age percentile by category from baseline to the music intervention indicated that obese children’s BMI percentile decreased 0.3 percentile, while children in the overweight category showed a mean decrease of 1.8 percentile and normal range children showed a mean decrease of 3.6 percentile. Given that majority of participants were female, these were considered moderately successful short-term results since children are still growing and CDC growth charts for females aged 9 to 11 show a 6-week mean BMI percentile increase of 0.07 percentile. Results for mean waist circumference showed no change between baseline and treatment. However, analysis of mean waist circumference by category showed a slight decrease for normal and overweight children. The children’s mean attitude toward school increased 0.33 points in a negative direction, however the children consistently expressed a positive view of the music intervention. Additionally, the results for participants’ eating habits showed a mean improvement toward healthy eating habits of 0.16 points and an increase of 0.83 points for information on food taught in the intervention. Finally, the behavior analysis indicated a mean decrease in off-task behavior of 2.1% during the intervention.
These results suggest that the music intervention was helpful in improving physical health for participants with overweight issues. Additionally, the results suggest that the program was helpful for all participants in terms of improving behavior and attitudes toward exercise and eating healthy foods (nutritional information components). Finally, results suggest that it is essential for future school curricula to consider conducting the program a minimum of 3 times a week in order to effectively address weight and health issues.
The results of this study suggest that music therapy has the potential to be an effective intervention to combat childhood obesity. Adults often experience difficulty maintaining motivation for continuous physical fitness and proper diet. This difficulty has resulted in the creation of different exercise and dietary education approaches across many decades. For children, it may be even harder to understand physical changes and maintain motivation to exercise. Music therapy may be effective in combating weight issues because it is nonthreatening and supportive, and can serve to motivate children. Music therapy is designed to meet needs using music, and it may function to help children develop healthy habits for the future. More research is warranted in the use of music therapy, exercise, and healthy diet choices. Implication for music therapy practice and suggestions for future research are discussed.