Schools Alone Cannot Prevent Childhood Obesity

In a new UK study, researchers set out to determine whether school-based, anti-obesity interventions could be successful in helping children achieve a healthy weight. The findings show, however, that the healthy-lifestyle program they reviewed had made little difference in the students’ weight status, suggesting that schools can’t fight obesity alone.

“Whilst school is an important setting for influencing children’s health behaviour, and delivery of knowledge and skills to support healthy lifestyles is one of their mandatory functions, widespread policy change and broader influences from the family, community, media, and the food industry is also needed,” said Dr. Miranda Pallan, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research.

The West Midlands ActiVe lifestyle and healthy Eating in School children (WAVES) study was conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The goal was to evaluate the clinical value and cost-effectiveness of the program which included activities designed to support children aged six and seven in keeping their weight at a healthy level through healthy eating and physical activity. The intervention was one of the largest childhood obesity prevention trials ever conducted, carried out in dozens of schools.

The 12-month WAVES study intervention involved a daily 30-minute physical activity opportunity during school time as well as a six-week interactive skill-based program in conjunction with a premiership football club. In addition, six monthly mailouts informed families of opportunities to engage in physical activities together. The schools also offered families the opportunity to attend a healthy cooking skills workshop each term.

Nearly 1,500 students from 54 state primary schools in the West Midlands participated in the trial. Their measurements — including weight, height, percentage body fat, waist circumference, skinfold thickness, and blood pressure — were taken when the study began.

The students also wore an activity tracker for five days, recorded their dietary intake and completed assessments designed to determine their perceived quality of life, social acceptance, and body image. These measurements were taken again 15 months and 30 months later and were compared with students who had not taken part in the intervention.

The findings, published in The BMJ, show that the intervention did not result in a significant difference in participants’ weight status.

“Our research, combined with wider evidence, suggests that schools cannot lead on the childhood obesity prevention agenda,” said Professor Peymané Adab, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research.

Excess weight in childhood is a worldwide problem, affecting around 41 million children under the age of five years. In addition to the physical and psychosocial problems in these early years, childhood excess weight is an important predictor of obesity in adulthood, with additional adverse health and economic effects.

Source: University of Birmingham