Researchers from the University of Birmingham have found that a year-long anti-obesity program in schools had no noticeable effect on children’s health. The study, published in The BMJ, compared the effectiveness of a lifestyle and healthy eating program (West Midlands Active Lifestyle and Healthy Eating in School Children, or WAVES) with usual practice for preventing childhood obesity. WAVES is a 12-month, school-delivered intervention focused on healthy eating and physical activity in primary school children. Data were gathered from about 1400 6- and 7-year-olds at 54 randomly selected state-run primary schools in the West Midlands, monitored over a 2.5-year period; participating schools were randomised to either intervention or control (control: 28 schools, 778 pupils). At the start of the trial, height and weight were recorded for each child, together with measurements related to body fat, diet and physical activity levels. The program included daily additional physical activity opportunities in schools, a physical activity and healthy eating program in conjunction with local sporting heroes, regular information to parents about local physical activity opportunities, and workshops on healthy cooking for families at schools. At 15 and 30 months, the researchers found no significant difference in weight between children taking part in the program and controls, and no meaningful effect on body fat measurements, diet or physical activity levels. The researchers suggested that “nudge” interventions — for example, financial incentives to prompt healthier behaviour — merited further investigation, but they concluded that school-based motivational, educational approaches “are unlikely to halt the childhood obesity epidemic”.
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