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Introduction of physical activity classes in girls’ private schools in Saudi Arabia: A natural experiment

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


In May 2013, the “Guardian” wrote: “Saudi Arabia to allow girls to play sport at private schools”. ( Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia has undergone rapid social and economic transformation, which includes massive urbanization, increased consumption of energy-dese foods and sugar-sweetened beverages and reduced physical activity. As a consequence, the society has experienced a dramatic increase in overweight and obesity, especially among children and adolescents. One in three adolescents (37.2%) are now overweight (26.6%) or obese (10.6%) with a rising trend in obesity levels over the past three decades. This project takes advantage of a “natural experiment” about to unfold, wherein girls in private schools in Saudi Arabia will soon be allowed for the first time to engage in official physical activity/fitness classes. We plan to study this emerging change, using an integrated, systems science framework. We anticipate that this study will shed light on both the multiple complex factors that influence the childhood obesity associated behavioral risks, and the potential value of focused changes in school or public policy that may be of benefit in battling the epidemic of childhood obesity in the Middle East and other regions. The expected outcomes of this project will be to obtain baseline and end of school-year data on anthropometric, physical activity, sedentary behaviors and related environmental determinants from the private girls’ schools new policy adopters and non-adopters. The analysis will be conducted at multiple levels comprising the microsystem, exosystem and macrosystem. Both qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods will be employed.

Project Type


  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - selected city