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Tackling the problem of childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is an increasing problem in the UK with roughly one in seven school aged children in England and Scotland being classified as obese, and one in eight in Wales. The direct cost to the NHS is estimated to be £4.2bn a year.

A number of measures have been introduced by the NHS to tackle the problem and researchers at the University of Worcester were commissioned to evaluate two of these projects; weight-management programmes for children and families, and the Food Dudes programme.

A team of researchers from Worcester evaluated seven child weight management programmes in the West Midlands. The study involved an audit of the data collected by each intervention programme, a review of programme materials, including the theoretical rationale and evidence base for each intervention programme, an assessment of physical and psychosocial benefits to programme participants and an economic evaluation of the interventions.

The research has been used by commissioners of child weight management programmes to inform decisions about future funding allocation to programmes involved in the evaluation.

The study into the 'Food Dudes Programme', a school based health promotion initiative for primary school children set out to discover whether the Programme brought about changes in children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables, at school and at home and whether these could be sustained over a period of time.

Over a period of 12 months, the team visited 15 primary schools across the West Midlands and measured food intake at school and home. Children’s knowledge and attitudes towards healthy eating, family eating habits and the experiences of school staff were also assessed.

The research found that the intervention had a positive impact on children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables in the short term; particularly three months following the intervention but this was not sustained 12 months later. And, although the programme worked well in school, the impact at home was less clear and fruit and vegetable consumption decreased over the course of the study.

The findings were presented at national and international conferences including the British Psychological Society’s annual conference and the annual meeting of the International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity in Texas in addition to a number of publications in peer reviewed journals.