For Childhood Obesity Prevention, School-Only Intervention Doesn’t Work

Global childhood obesity is on the rise. In 2010, 43 million children were considered overweight or obese, 35 million of whom were living in developed countries. Since 1990 the prevalence of childhood obesity was 4.2 percent – and 6.7 percent just two decades later. There is no debate: the health of young people is of grave concern, especially since obesity is tied to some of the top killer chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. And childhood obesity is a strong predictor of adult obesity, as well.

There are many efforts underway to try and reverse the trend – some of which proving to be more effective than others. The University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom recently released its findings from a study that followed one operation. Researchers followed the West Midlands ActiVe lifestyle and healthy Eating in School children (WAVES) program for one year to see what effects it had on obesity rates in young children. The healthy lifestyle program included family healthy cooking workshops, a six week skill-based program, newsletters advertising local family-themed physical activity events and an opportunity for children to engage in an additional 30 minutes of activity during school hours.

Nearly 1,500 students from 54 different schools participated in the study. Each student had their weight, height, percentage body fat, waist circumference, skinfold thickness and blood pressure measured at the beginning of the trial, at 15 months and again at 30 months. They detailed their dietary choices throughout the day, took quality of life assessments and wore a physical activity tracker for five days. Results in the randomized controlled trial were compared to students who did not participate in the study.

The findings revealed there were no significant changes in participants’ weight status. The researchers suggest this indicates a broader problem: in-school programs alone cannot undo the trends that have already been established. There needs to be more comprehensive reform, in multiple arenas, to improve the health of children everywhere.

“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,” stated Dr. Miranda Pallan, from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research.

When it comes to comprehensive obesity prevention for early childhood, the Harvard School of Public Health offers a variety of recommendations: shaping taste preferences for healthier foods early on, encouraging multiple opportunities for physical activity, limiting screen time, getting adequate sleep and more. There are also institutional challenges for families, such as access to healthy foods, caregivers having to spend extra time at work and caregivers not being familiar with healthy habits themselves.

Whichever angle is investigated next, we know that school programs alone don’t do the trick: a well-rounded approach that starts off as early as possible seems to have the very best results.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

thanks for sharing

Kelly S
Past Member 10 months ago


Anne G
Anne G10 months ago

Education is important, but if the parents or whoever cooks isn’t willing to go along with dietary changes, nothing will change. Kids sit more and eat more and that is the problem. My generation had recess where we actually moved, sports in and after school and we walked or biked everywhere. TV was limited to after dinner after homework. Kids just don’t seem to have the freedom to run around anymore, shame.

Cathy B
Cathy B11 months ago

Good article. Thank you.

Clare O
Clare O'Beara11 months ago

school is a good start especially as far parents have fat kids

Winn A
Winn Adams11 months ago


Winn A
Winn Adams11 months ago


Marija M
Marija M11 months ago

tks for sharing.

Angela K
Angela K11 months ago


Danii P
Past Member 11 months ago

Thank you