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Table 2 Academic outcomes: findings from systematic reviews and meta-analyses (ordered by quality rating)

From: A critical evaluation of systematic reviews assessing the effect of chronic physical activity on academic achievement, cognition and the brain in children and adolescents: a systematic review

AuthorsPopulationSystematic review resultsMeta-analysis resultsc
High-quality reviews
 Martin et al. [31]Overweight or obese children (3–18 years)No effects of PA on maths, reading or language were found (moderate quality evidence)
Maths (s = 3): no evidence for an effect
Reading (s = 2): no evidence for an effect Language (s = 2): no evidence for an effect
Maths: 0.49 (−0.04, 1.01), I2 =57% (s = 2)
Reading: 0.10 (−0.30, 0.49), I2 =63% (s = 2)
Language: not performed
Low-quality reviews
 Singh et al. [25]Children and adolescents (3–16 years)7 high-quality studies: 15/25 analysed constructs (60%) found a beneficial effect, leading to inconclusive evidence; no studies reported adverse effects of PA on academic achievement
Maths: Strong evidence for PA on maths performance (86% of outcomes are beneficial)
Language: Inconclusive evidence for language performance (27% of outcomes are beneficial)
NA
Critically low-quality reviews
 Álvarez-Bueno et al. [23]Healthy children and adolescents (4–13 years)Language: 4/9 studies reported significant improvements in the intervention group
Maths: 13/18 studies reported significant improvements in the intervention group Reading: 5/10 studies reported significant improvements in the intervention group Composite scores: 2/5 studies reported significant differences between the groups Other subjects: 1/3 studies reported improvements after the PA intervention
Language:d =0.16 (−0.06, 0.37), I2 =71.7% (s = 3, k = 7)
Maths:d =0.21 (0.09, 0.33), I2 =57.8% (s = 10, k = 16)b
Reading:d =0.13 (0.02, 0.24), I2 =25.5% (s = 5, k = 10)
Composite scores:d =0.26 (0.07, 0.45), I2 =75.6% (s = 4, k = 8)
 de Greeff et al. [24]Primary school children (6–12 years)Academic achievement: 9/14 reported positive findings on at least 1 outcome measure, 5 reported no significant findingsAcademic performance:g =0.26 (0.02, 0.49), I2 =39% (k = 4, s = 3)
Maths:g =0.09 (−0.17, 0.35), I2< 0.01% (s = 1, k = 2)
Reading:g =0.15 (−0.15, 0.46), I2 =35.31% (s = 2, k = 2)
Spelling:g =0.34 (−0.23, 0.92), I2 = NA (s = 1, k = 1)
 Gunnell et al. [27]aHealthy children (1–17.99 years)Academic achievement and intelligence: mixed evidence.
PA vs nonea(n = 2202 participants, s = 9): 5/9 —, 1/9 ↑, 3/9 — ↑
Multiple comparisons (n = 1141, s = 4): 3/4 ↑, 1/4 — ↑↓
PA vs PA (n = 546, s = 5): 3/5 ↑, 1/5 — ↑, 1/5 —
Not performed given heterogeneity of study designs, PA exposures and outcomes
 Li et al. [30]Healthy adolescents (13–18 years)1/1 studies showed a beneficial effect on academic performance. Of two parameters, only one showed significanceNA
 Martin and Murtagh [32]Children (5–12 years)4/4 reported some positive effectsNA
 Pucher, Boot, and Vries [34]School-aged childrenAcross 4 studies: additional PA is not likely to affect academic performance negatively, and positive effects of PA have been demonstrated and are more likely when PE is delivered at vigorous levels and by a trained specialist/teacherNA
 Lees and Hopkins [29]Children and adolescents (< 19 years)3/3 showed positive effects on academic performanceNA
 Spruit et al. [26]Children and adolescents (mean age 11–18)Physical activity interventions are effective in improving academic achievement (s = 10)Academic performance:d =0.367 (0.038, 0.69), (s = 10, k = 34)
 Mura et al. [33]Children (3–18 years)10/16 studies showed an improvement in academic performance (maths (s = 4), reading (s = 1), overall academic achievement (s = 5)), in 6/16 it did not worsen academic performanceNA
 Haapala [28]Children and adolescents (7–16 years)Positive effect of PA on maths, reading and language skills in 3/4 studies. In 2/4 studies no significant differences between groupsNA
  1. Abbreviations: d = Cohen’s d, ES effect size, g = Hedges’ g, k number of comparisons, n number of participants, NA not assessed, PA physical activity, RCT randomised controlled-trial, s number of study/studies
  2. aPA vs none: PA was compared to a sedentary control condition, Multiple comparisons: studies with multiple treatment and/or control groups, PA vs PA: comparison of multiple types of PA interventions. Coding represents combinations of: — = null results, ↓ = unfavourable results, ↑ = favourable results
  3. bEffect size changes in sensitivity analysis, the findings of which are presented in Additional file 9
  4. cResults are reported as: standardized mean difference, 95% confidence intervals, heterogeneity statistics if available, the number of studies (s) and number of comparisons (k)