School-based obesity programmes are unlikely to have much effect on the childhood obesity epidemic, suggests research from the Public Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham.
Previous reviews have suggested that school-based interventions could be effective in reducing the proportion of overweight children, but study limitations have hampered the development of firm recommendations.
The University of Birmingham team carried out a randomised trial of the West Midlands ActiVe lifestyle and healthy Eating in School children (WAVES). WAVES is a 12-month school-delivered intervention that focuses on healthy eating and physical activity among primary school children. The programme included daily additional physical activity opportunities in schools, a physical activity and healthy eating programme in conjunction with local sporting heroes, regular information to parents about local physical activity opportunities, and workshops on healthy cooking for families at schools.
Data was collected from around 1400 pupils aged 6 and 7 years at 54 randomly selected State-run primary schools in the West Midlands over a two-and-a-half year period. The researchers found no significant difference in weight status and no meaningful effect on body fat measurements, diet or physical activity levels at 15 and 30 months in children taking part in the programme, compared with those not taking part.
They suggest that “nudge” interventions - for example using financial incentives to prompt healthier behaviour - merit further investigation, but they conclude that school-based motivational, educational approaches “are unlikely to halt the childhood obesity epidemic”.