Effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme delivered through schools

Effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme delivered through schools, targeting 6 and 7 year olds: cluster randomised controlled trial (WAVES study)

The WAVES (West Midlands ActiVe lifestyle and healthy Eating in School children) study assessed the use of a school and family based healthy lifestyle programme in over 50 primary schools across the West Midlands and compared the results on preventing childhood obesity with the usual school practice. Results showed that this had little impact on children’s body mass index (BMI) and so suggest schools are unlikely to be able to achieve this without help across sectors and from other environments.

The report highlights the importance of childhood obesity as a determining factor for health and wellbeing in later life. As such they considered the long term impact post-intervention and the cost effectiveness of intervention strategies and programmes. In a review of such methods it is found that a broader reach which encompasses home life and longer intervention periods are more likely to impact obesity.

WAVES’ methods included education and encouragement of healthy eating and physical activity, daily opportunities to participate in 30 minutes of physical activity, skills development, signposting of local services and opportunities, and family workshops on cooking healthier meals. Delivery of the intervention was done by teachers utilising the provided training and resources, with the occasional out-of-school engagement of the Villa Vitality programme at the local football ground.

Although improvements from the test intervention were deemed insignificant, feedback from the participants was positive. One explanation for the lack of significant impact however could be that not all teachers managed to fully implement all areas of the intervention due to competing demands on their workload. Furthermore, while schools are key for delivery of skills and knowledge, wider influences such as the family, the media, and the food industry play a key role in influencing behaviour and feedback from teachers reflected this. The report concludes that while the effect in schools may be marginal, these could be important as part of a wider approach to incorporate policy and other agencies to develop and support healthy behaviours.

“The study is quite old and we now know that obesity is more a result of poor diet than lack of physical activity. School-based interventions should be part of much wider anti-obesity strategies at local, regional and national levels. At an individual level, reducing levels of obesity should always be considered alongside other related and contributing factors such as education, mental health, wellbeing, personal development, poverty, peer influence and parental support.

The real danger with reports like this is that attention grabbing headlines often affect important and related work that does make a difference within schools across a broad range of outcomes, not just childhood obesity levels.”

– John Bishop, Evolve Managing Director

“Expecting teachers to effectively implement another physical activity intervention that inspires and motivates children to be more active of their own accord was doomed to fail. What is needed is a dedicated, professional workforce, carefully selected, specifically trained and embedded within schools with the time, focus and expertise that is needed to address the mental health and obesity epidemics that show no signs of abating.

A multi-faceted and holistic approach is needed. Project HE:RO (Health Engagement: Real Outcomes) provides a clear signpost to how this can be achieved.”

– Graham Morgan, Evolve Chairman

To read the full report, click here.