Childhood obesity is becoming a major problem in the developed world. In the US alone, 16.9% of boys and 15.6% of girls aged 6 to 11 years among non-Hispanic whites are overweight. Among non-Hispanic blacks, it’s 17.2% of boys and 24.8%of girls in the same age group. For Mexican Americans, it’s 25.6% of boys and 16.6% of girls. (Source: American Heart Association (AHA)). Obesity is a major risk factor in cardiovascular health as well as type 2 diabetes.
Many studies point to the causes of these weight problems – poor nutrition and lack of exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association have issued guidelines on how to clinically monitor and control cholesterol levels in children who are overweight or obese.
However, health solutions that go beyond the clinical settings are necessary to stem this rapidly growing problem.
Schools are one of the ideal places to start with. After all, children spend a large part of their daily routine at school. This study led by the Center for Obesity Research and Education, Temple University examined
1,349 pupils from 10 Philadelphia elementary schools were involved in the study. 5 schools implemented the School Nutrition Policy Initiative and 5 schools did not and served as conrol. The schools who had implemented the policy drastically changed the food available at school, be it at the cafeteria or in the vending machines. Sodas were replaced with fruit juices, low-fat milk, or water. Candies and sweets were banned and snacks were scaled down in terms of fat and sugar content. In addition, rewards in the form of raffle tickets for sports equipment were given to those who made wise food choices. In addition, the pupils were encouraged to perform physical exercises at break times. The children were monitored, their weight and height measured and their eating and exercise habits were checked with a questionnaire. The school staff who organized the study was specially trained in nutrition education.
The schools also stepped on nutrition and health education. Nutrition education is incorporates as much as possible in all school subjects. Special classes were organized not only for the pupils but for teachers and parents as well.
Social marketing on nutrition was also employed. Slogans and posters on healthy lifestyle were posted everywhere.
And here are the results:
The intervention resulted in a 50% reduction in the incidence of overweight. Significantly fewer children in the intervention schools (7.5%) than in the control schools (14.9%) became overweight after 2 years. The prevalence of overweight was lower in the intervention schools. No differences were observed in the incidence or prevalence of obesity or in the remission of overweight or obesity at 2 years.
This means that after two years, the number of overweight pupils at the five “nutrition-friendly” schools dropped while the number of overweight children in control schools increased. Also fewer new overweight children were observed at the “nutrition-friendly” schools.
Unfortunately, no such significant difference has been observed in the incidence of obesity in the 2 school groups. Also, remission or the tendency to gain back lost pounds did not significantly decrease.
In conclusion, special interventions such as used in this study do help in controlling the problem of overweight among children. However, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Other measures have to be taken including implementation of such initiative earlier. In addition, future initiatives should focus on other aspects of the school environment such as PE classes as well as environments outside the school – at home!