Preventing childhood obesity
News release from NETSCC, Public Health Research
28 May 2012
A newly funded NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) programme study will determine the effectiveness and cost- effectiveness of the Healthy Lifestyles Programme (HeLP) to see if it can prevent children becoming overweight.
The proportion of children who are obese has doubled in England in the last ten years and currently one third of 10-11 year olds are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is associated with health issues in childhood, as well as reduced self-esteem and quality of life.
Led by Dr Katrina Wyatt of the Peninsula Medical School, the team will test HeLP with 1,000 9-10 year olds from 28 schools. Half of the schools will be randomly selected to receive the programme and compared with 14 schools with no intervention.
Dr Wyatt commented: We have worked with schools, children and their families over the last five years, to develop and refine a novel, inclusive, drama-based, healthy lifestyles programme called 'HeLP' for Year 5 primary school children to prevent children from becoming overweight or obese." She adds: We know that overweight and obese children are more likely to become obese adults and experience significant health issues because of their weight.
HeLP combines education, interactive drama, goal setting and parental involvement to promote and support sustainable changes in diet and physical activity. It encourages healthy lifestyles for the whole year group and avoids creating special or discriminating treatment for those who are overweight. Having created a supportive environment within the school, the main focus of the programme is a week of drama-based activities. Parents are invited in to watch the drama and other activities throughout the Programme.
Four characters have been created within the drama, each with positive and negative lifestyle behaviours. Children select which character they most resemble and work with that character throughout the week, suggesting ways in which the character can alter their behaviours. The following week the children set goals with their families and the researchers, suggesting three behaviours they will target for improvement.
The researchers have already tested a HeLP pilot with 398 children and their families. Results which involved four schools; two of which received HeLP and two which did not, suggest that HeLP has the potential to positively impact on physical activity levels and dietary behaviours, and these are sustained over a two year period.
The success of the programme will be judged by comparing measures of weight, physical activity and dietary behaviours, between the two groups of children at 18 and 24 months.
View the project details.