Schools can play an important role in lowering children’s risk of type 2 diabetes according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers found that secondary school students were less likely to be obese and to have other risk factors for diabetes if their school offered healthier food, more vigorous PE lessons and expanded health education.
Reducing rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes is a public health priority and schools are a logical place to start, as they can influence what children eat, their activity levels and their health awareness.
Researchers undertook a three-year study involving more than 4,600 children aged around 11, across 42 schools in the US.
Half of the schools were instructed to provide students with healthier food and drink options, more vigorous periods of exercise, and education promoting healthy behaviour.
The other 21 schools (the comparison group) were not instructed to make any changes.
After three years, students who had been overweight or obese at the start of the study were 21 percent less likely to be obese if their school had adopted the changes.
Students at these schools also had other signs of a lower diabetes risk, including smaller average waist sizes, and lower levels of insulin in their blood after not eating for a while. (High levels of ‘fasting’ insulin can indicate a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.)
This study shows that a school-based programme focused on diet, exercise, and health education may help decrease certain risk factors for diabetes, such as being obese.
While the use of school-based programmes such Human Kinetics’ Fitnessgram is common in the US, their use is not yet widespread in the UK.
The Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2009, launched in mid-March 2010 contains some very worthy recommendations about physical activity and also a recommendation to introduce fitness testing into secondary schools.
Dr Jo Harris and Dr Lorraine Cale, Loughborough University on behalf of the Association for Physical Education (AfPE), issued a response to the report.
In it they made several recommendations including one that stated “schools should regularly monitor children’s physical activity levels to determine which pupils are (and are not) meeting the physical activity recommendation; this can be done instead of, or alongside monitoring of health-related fitness components, as is the case in educational assessment programmes such as Fitnessgram/Activitygram which incorporate criterion-referenced standards and provide individualised feedback on activity and health-related fitness measures.”
You can access the CMO’s Report and AfPE’s response document by clicking here and scrolling down to the article dated 19/03/2010.