Effectiveness of school based childhood obesity interventions questioned

New clinical trial data published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has brought into question the effectiveness of school based interventions on childhood obesity. Nearly half of children are obese in some areas and voices for urgent action on this issue are getting louder.

Following a randomised trial in the West Midlands, research from the University of Birmingham has found that interventions had limited impact on Body Mass Index scores or on preventing childhood obesity.

200 schools were randomly selected from all state run primary schools within 35 miles of the study centre. The 12 month intervention encouraged healthy eating and physical activity, including a daily additional 30 minute school time physical activity opportunity, a six week interactive skill based programme in conjunction with Aston Villa football club, signposting of local family physical activity opportunities through mail-outs every six months, and termly school led family workshops on healthy cooking skills.

According to the report strategies such as those based on behavioural economics aimed at altering the social and physical environment were not included as part of the intervention. Therefore although findings from the feasibility study were positive, it points to factors outside of school that are impacting on childhood obesity.

“While school is an important setting for influencing children’s health behaviour, and delivery of knowledge and skills to support healthy lifestyles is one of its mandatory functions, wider influences from the family, community, media, and the food industry must also be considered.”

The report concludes that interventions based on behavioural economics merit further investigation.

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