Childhood obesity prevention is hard – but here’s one program that has worked

Around a quarter of NSW children are either obese or overweight, according to NSW Health – a shocking statistic which is likely to be replicated across the country. And while we’ve long known what we need to do to combat the problem – get kids to eat better and exercise more – the issue has often been delivering sustainable, well-integrated programs that actually work.

One such program that has achieved this goal is the subject of a paper that has just been named Best ‘In Practice’ Paper in the Sax Institute’s Public Health Research & Practice Excellence Awards. The award-winning work, led by Andrea Bravo of the NSW Ministry of Health, looks at the Live Life Well @ School program – a statewide, whole-of-school initiative which aims to encourage and support NSW primary school students and their families in adopting healthy eating and physical activity behaviours.

The paper reports on the achievements of the program, which is based on adoption of ten evidence-based “desirable practices” for schools. These include providing opportunities and a supportive environment for healthy eating, encouragement of physical activity during recess and lunch, and incorporation of the program’s strategies into school planning processes.

The authors found over 80% of primary schools across NSW were participating in the program, with equitable reach in areas of socio-economic disadvantage and remote location. Around three-quarters of participating schools had adopted desirable practices.

“Live Life Well @ School is a fantastic example of partnership between Local Health Districts and the schools sector to improve childhood health,” says senior author Chris Rissel, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

“Our paper shows the importance of having evidence-based goals and good monitoring data for these kinds of projects. The data aspects of the program are a key strength for stakeholders: it really inspires confidence if you can clearly demonstrate improvements and log changes over time.”

A key take-home message, Chris says, is that for a prevention program to be successful, change needs to be supported at a local level and the changes need to be sustained by the organisation itself.

“The system needs to be able to support changes in behaviour,” he adds.

The Public Health Research & Practice Award for Best ‘In Practice’ Paper specifically recognises work authored by frontline practitioners.

The Sax Institute has established the Public Health Research & Practice Excellence Awards to celebrate the high calibre of articles published in the Institute’s peer-reviewed journal. We promote excellence in public health research, practice and policy, and recognise the inspirational work taking place in Australia and internationally.

Access the full paper here.

More information about the Awards and winning papers here.