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Is the school environment having an impact on pupils' weight?

Posted on January 13th 2016

New research from PenCLAHRC has explored the influence that the primary school environment has on the weight of young children.

The research, led by Dr Andrew Williams at the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, and conducted with colleagues at PenCLAHRC, used data from the National Child Measurement Programme, to look at whether the school environment has an effect on the weight of pupils.

Previous research on childhood obesity has considered schools to be an important environment for children, with the potential to influence their exercise and eating habits and, therefore, a large number of interventions to tackle childhood obesity have been based in schools.

Recently, the exact nature of the link between school environment and pupils’ weight has been questioned. The current study collected data from 319 primary schools across Devon and compared it to five years of data (2006-2011) from the National Child Measurement Programme. The researchers were able to compare weight status with factors such as depravation, location, resources available to the school and prioritisation of physical activity.

The research team found that deprivation had the strongest association with weight status, with those experiencing high deprivation having a higher chance of being obese. Conversely, school environments with more available resources had an association with reduced levels of obesity. Location and physical activity were found to have no association with weight status.

These findings have led the researchers to conclude that the school environment is not contributing to childhood obesity issues in the way that has commonly been assumed. With children spending, on average, more than 60% of their time outside school, even during term time, the outcomes of this study suggest that obesity prevention strategies should address what is happening outside of schools, particularly during the school holidays.

You can read more about this research, which has been published in the journal PLoS ONE, their website.

Reference: Williams AJ, Wyatt KM, Williams CA, Logan S, Henley WE (2015) Exploring the Potential of a School Impact on Pupil Weight Status: Exploratory Factor Analysis and Repeat Cross-Sectional Study of the National Child Measurement Programme. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0145128. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0145128

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