Obesity 9% lower in schools with targeted health programme

February 24, 2014: Childhood obesity has been found to be 9% lower in schools which took part in a targeted health programme in Tallaght.

A study carried out by Trinity College Dublin found that 16% of children in schools which had taken part in a Healthy Schools Programme were obese compared to 25% in comparable control group schools – a difference of 9% in the level of obesity.

Furthermore, 10% of children in the intervention schools were overweight compared to 16% of children in the control schools. Overall 73% in the intervention schools were within normal weight for their age compared to 58% in the control schools.

The Healthy Schools Programme was co-ordinated by the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) in seven primary schools in Tallaght from 2009 – 2011. The programme aimed to improve both children and teachers’ understanding and practice relating to diet, exercise and mental health and was delivered over a period of three years in the intervention schools.

A further finding of the follow up study is that the intervention school children also showed significant improvement in social support and peer relations compared to the control group children.

An evaluation of the programme at the time that it was being delivered did not identify any immediate difference in health indicators between the intervention and control groups. However, it recommended a follow up study to identify if changes would emerge over time.

Professor Catherine Comiskey of Trinity College Dublin who carried out both the original and the follow up study last year, four years after the programme had first been introduced, said the two studies showed the need to take a medium rather than short term view of the impact of interventions using a whole school approach.

“The results of this follow up study confirm the potential of a health focused intervention to benefit children, however it has taken a number of years for its benefits to become evident,” she said.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care Alex White said the findings were highly positive and would be considered by Government. “We will review the findings of both Healthy Schools Programme studies to extract the evidence and identify how best to work effectively with schools in order to support and enhance the health of young children,” he said.

CDI CEO Marian Quinn highlighted that to be successful intervention programmes need to be embedded at the heart of all school policy and ethos, rather than ‘an add on for teachers’.

“We have learnt that it is not about just doing the intervention. Outcomes varied across the intervention schools based on how ready a school was to deliver the programme and how embedded it was within school activity.”

A Policy Brief on the CDI Healthy Schools Programme highlights the importance of a broader and supportive content for this type of programme to be effective.

Its recommendations include:

  • An assessment of the readiness of a school for an intervention be undertaken prior to implementation
  • A National Framework for Health Promoting Schools be developed including the Departments of Education and Health
  • Local Health Promoting Committees be developed including health services and Local Authorities
  • Health promotion and learning on inter-agency collaboration be included in training for teachers and other children focused professionals.
  • CDI co-ordinated seven prevention and early intervention prevention programmes in Tallaght between 2007 and 2013. These programmes engaged with approximately 5,000 children and parents improving literacy, speech and language skills, health in schools, community safety and conflict resolution.

In autumn 2013 CDI was selected as part of the Government’s Area Based Childhood  (ABC) Programme which is co-funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies. CDI has been allocated €4m to deliver further prevention and early intervention programmes up to 2016 as part of the ABC Programme of local initiatives to improve outcomes for children in targeted areas.

Further Information

Ronan Cavanagh, Cavanagh Communications: (086) 317 9731.