Schools Do Help in War on Childhood Obesity, Yale Study Finds

A team of Yale University researchers has found that school-based programs for obesity prevention and reversal are generally effective and are an important component in battling what many regard as a national obesity epidemic among young people.

In recent years, health professionals have questioned the utility of school-based intervention for obesity control, and the topic has been actively debated because clear evidence of their effectiveness was lacking.

“Our paper shows that schools can, indeed, be part of the solution—and therefore should be because the only alternative is to be part of the problem,” said David L. Katz, M.D., adjunct associate professor at Yale School of Public Health and director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center. Katz was lead investigator of the study appearing in a recent issue of International Journal of Obesity,

However, Katz noted, “It is unreasonable to expect that schools can be the entire solution. There is a flood of obesity-causing influences into our daily lives from every direction, in the form of tempting calories and barriers to physical activity. Interventions in schools are like one sandbag in a levee to hold back these flood waters.”

To learn how effective school-based strategies are in preventing or controlling obesity, the researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies published on the topic. A meta-analysis combines the data from separate but related studies to evaluate the pooled results. The research team considered school-based intervention studies published in peer-reviewed journals between 1966 and 2004. They searched for studies that tried to help children manage their weight or prevent unnecessary weight gain, and that used strategies involving nutrition, physical activity, reduced TV watching, or some combination of these.

Based on the meta-analysis, the Yale research team found that combined nutrition and physical activity interventions led to significant reductions in body weight. When looked at individually, the nutrition interventions and TV reduction were also effective; programs based on physical activity alone generally did not lead to weight reduction.

“Everyone should recognize the urgency of the obesity epidemic in children,” said Katz. “We are watching children develop what was, not long ago, ‘adult onset’ diabetes, now called type 2. We are seeing signs of heart disease risk in ever-younger people. The need to fix this is extreme, but the means of doing so have proven elusive.”

Katz advises that future studies should examine different combination of intervention components to determine the optimal way to blend different approaches.

Researchers from Hunter College and Griffin Hospital also participated in the study.

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