Get smart about nutrition

By • Published: July 17th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

School-based nutrition programs can play a significant role in preventing childhood obesity, according to a new study by Temple University researchers.

Kids in schools that launched an experimental obesity prevention program were half as likely to become overweight as children whose schools did not use the program.

The two-year study involved children in grades four through six in Philadelphia schools. Five schools implemented a comprehensive program that emphasized good nutrition. At the end of the study, seven-and-a-half percent of previously normal-weight children in the participating schools became overweight, compared with fifteen percent of students in five comparison schools.

The obesity prevention program had several components. Students received fifty hours of nutrition education per year that was incorporated into various subjects. For example, students used food labels to practice fractions.

In cafeterias and vending machines, water, low-fat milk and beverages with one-hundred percent juice replaced sodas. Schools only offered snacks with low amounts of fat, sugar and sodium. Kids who purchased healthy snacks or brought them from home were entered into raffle contests for bicycles, indoor basketball hoops and jump ropes.

Despite the program’s success, there is still room for improvement, say researchers, who would like to the cut the rate of new cases of obesity even more. Future programs could address physical education classes and children’s home environment. And programs should start at an earlier age: At the beginning of the study, forty percent of the participating schools’ students were already overweight or obese.