Researchers say much wider action is needed after a major programme in primary schools in the West Midlands was shown to have made no difference to obesity levels.
Childhood obesity programmes in schools are not the answer to the epidemic affecting the UK, according to researchers who say much wider local and national action is needed, including curbs on the advertising of junk food.
A major obesity programme introduced into more than 50 primary schools in the West Midlands has failed to have any significant effect on children’s weight. Children were given a year of extra physical activity sessions, a healthy eating programme and cookery workshops with their parents. Families were invited to activity events, including sessions run by Aston Villa football club.
But at the end of 30 months, there was no difference in obesity between those children who took part and those who did not.
The government’s childhood obesity plan, launched from Downing Street in January last year, placed great emphasis on increasing sport and other activity in schools. A number of school-based obesity programmes have been introduced around the country, focusing on increasing physical activity and improving children’s diet in school.
But, says the team from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, the negative results from their large study published in the British Medical Journal are in line with what has been found elsewhere; schools may have a role to play but can only be part of the answer to the obesity problem.
“We need to look at ways that we can really engage communities in this agenda, change our local environment and look at how national policies can support diet and physical activity,” said Miranda Pallan, one of the team. Adults, who may themselves be obese, are influenced by many different things. Local initiatives in communities can help but national policies on food and the environment are also vital.
The government is tackling sugar levels in soft drinks and foods. “There are some good things in the government’s plan but we would argue that there need to be further measures and there are things like advertising restrictions that would be very good to see,” Pallan said.
“If anything what our research highlights is that although schools are vitally important, they can’t do it alone. We need many, many approaches. Each of those will make a marginal difference. We need to look at the whole picture of the causes and tackle each of those areas.”