Middle-school students in urban areas may benefit from in-school mindfulness programs, a new study suggests.

Students taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction program during the school day ended up with less symptoms of stress and trauma than children attending classes on health topics, researchers found.

"High-quality structured mindfulness programs have the potential to really improve students' lives in ways that I think can be really meaningful over the life course," said lead author Dr. Erica Sibinga of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Children in many U.S. cities are at an increased risk of stresses and traumas due to the effects of community drug use, violence, multigenerational poverty, limited education and economic opportunities, Sibinga and her colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics.

The new study involved 300 students in grades five through eight at two Baltimore public schools. The researchers randomly assigned them to either a 12-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program or health classes to take during the school day.

Nearly all of the participants were black and almost all were eligible for the free school lunch program, which is offered to students with financially need.

The mindfulness program had three components: material about meditation, yoga and the mind-body connection; practice of those techniques; and group discussion.

In general, mindfulness training is geared toward a person "tuning in" - instead of "tuning out" like other meditation practices.

"It allows them to not only know what is happening, but to stop and take three breaths and figure out how they want to respond to what is happening the present moment," Sibinga told Reuters Health.

At the end of the program, compared to those who took health classes for the 12 weeks, the students in the mindfulness program had lower levels of general health problems, depression, recurrent thoughts about negative experiences and other symptoms of stress and trauma.

Sibinga said the differences would be enough for the students to notice in their day-to-day lives.

The researchers acknowledge some limitations to the research, like children missing some classes and possibly being exposed to mindfulness practices outside the sessions.

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Sibinga also said it would be difficult to say how the programs would work in other schools with different student populations, but she suspects there would be benefits.

The next step is to look at how to spread the program to other schools, and look at how the program may work, she said.

"It doesn't get us off the hook of trying to reduce the sources of trauma in our urban life," she said. But the study suggests adding structured mindfulness programs in urban settings would be beneficial, she added.