Tackling obesity : promoting physical activity and healthy eating in schools
Since the 1970s, rates of obesity amongst school-aged children have doubled or tripled in economically developed countries such as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia (Wang and Lobstein 2006). Obesity is defined as excess weight in relation to height (Sproston and Primatesta 2003) and, although definitions for children vary, being 20 per cent above the ideal weight for height can classify children as obese (Wang and Lobstein 2006). There is widespread concern about the impact of obesity on children’s health and wellbeing. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and undertaking regular physical activity can help protect children from becoming obese. Promoting physical activity and healthy eating in a school setting is a complex task, however, because there is no ‘proven’ formula that works for all children, whatever their age, gender, race, family background or needs. This chapter summarises evidence on the prevalence and consequences of obesity amongst young people in the UK and considers when and how this sensitive issue can be tackled. This represents an important challenge for schools. Two frameworks which might be helpful for tackling obesity are looked at, both of which place young people’s needs and experiences at their centre. The first of these advocates prioritising young people’s social and cultural values to ensure that obesity is tackled in a way that has meaning and relevance for local populations. The second focuses on young people’s assets – what are young people doing that is positive and how can such assets be utilised to improve diet and activity levels.The chapter then turns to examine what is meant by eating healthily and being physically active. Factors which influence young people’s diet and physical activity are outlined before the chapter asks ‘what can schools do?’ to tackle obesity. Suggestions are given, drawing on research evidence, to illustrate practical ways that schools can take action through the positive promotion of physical activity and eating healthily.