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School programmes having no impact on childhood obesity in the UK

New research suggests it’s time to try other methods to fight the escalating obesity problem.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Shutterstock/Robert Hoetink

SCHOOL BASED PROGRAMMES aimed at tackling the problem of childhood obesity in the UK are having little impact on the epidemic.

Around one in four children in the UK are overweight when they start school. The number of children classified as “very overweight” also doubles, from 9% to 19%, during their first six years of education.

Because of this the early school years are targeted as a critical period for preventative action.

However new research published in the British Medical Journal found that a major obesity programme, which is in place in more than 50 schools, is failing to have any significant effect on the problem.

Under the initiative children were given a healthy eating programme, an extra year of physical activity sessions and cookery workshops with their parents.

Despite this at the end of a 30 month period researchers found there was no difference in obesity between those children who took part and those who did not.

The research team said their results have also been found elsewhere. They argued that schools do play a role but a much broader approach is needed to tackle obesity.

They suggest that “nudge” interventions, such as using financial incentives to prompt healthier behaviour, merit further investigation.

Professor Melissa Wake, a paediatrician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said the findings could “break the cycle of policymakers continuing with ineffective educational preventive approaches that can never hope to greatly impact on the obesity epidemic.”

Effective, scalable, and affordable strategies are needed that reduce childhood obesity, can be implemented locally and do not widen health inequities.

Last year in Ireland the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) found that around one in five children are overweight or obese.

The study also found a marked difference across genders with girls tending to be more overweight and obese than boys.

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Ceimin Burke

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