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Research finds targeted health programme lowers obesity in children

The Junior Health Minister says the government will review the findings of the study.

Image: Fruit and vegetables via Shutterstock

CHILDREN AT A group of schools in Dublin recorded a much lower incidence of obesity after a health programme was initiated.

That is the finding of a new report from Trinity College.

The study found that 16% of children in schools which had taken part in a Healthy Schools Programme were obese compared to 25% in comparable control group schools – a difference of 9% in the level of obesity.

The seven schools in Tallaght ran an initiative called the Healthy Schools Programme between 2009 and 2011.

After the programme, the participating schools were found to have a lower occurrence of obesity.

As well as that, 10% of children in the intervention schools were overweight compared to 16% of children in the control schools.

Overall, 73% of students in the intervention schools were within normal weight for their age compared to 58% in the control schools.

The programme aimed to improve both children and teachers’ understanding and practice relating to diet, exercise and mental health and was delivered over a period of three years in the intervention schools.

A further finding of the follow up study is that the intervention school children also showed significant improvement in social support and peer relations compared to the control group children.

Professor Catherine Comiskey of Trinity College Dublin who carried out both the original and the follow up study last year, four years after the programme had first been introduced, said the two studies showed the need to take a medium rather than short term view of the impact of interventions using a whole school approach.

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“The results of this follow up study confirm the potential of a health focused intervention to benefit children, however it has taken a number of years for its benefits to become evident,” she said.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care Alex White said the findings were highly positive and would be considered by Government.

“We will review the findings of both Healthy Schools Programme studies to extract the evidence and identify how best to work effectively with schools in order to support and enhance the health of young children,” he said.

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