Effectiveness of school wellness policies in preventing obesity among children in undeserved middle schools: a community-based participatory approach

During middle school, many children begin to establish unhealthy dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles. School districts have federally-mandated School Wellness Policies (SWPs) to prevent childhood obesity. Each district develops its own SWPs. At the same time, many schools have Coordinating School Health Teams (CSHTs), which are coalitions of individuals from within and outside the school interested in improving the health of youth. CSHTs were first proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have been functioning in schools across the nation. CSHTs may or may not be involved in the development or implementation of SWPs. Very few studies have investigated the effectiveness of SWPs and CSHTs in obesity prevention. Prior research showed limited influence of physical activity strategies in the SWPs on obesity reduction. We will undertake community-based participatory research aimed at strengthening and evaluating the SWPs through the collaboration of a newly formed and diverse CSHT in middle schools in Genesee County, Michigan. The project is a collaboration among the Genesee Intermediate School district, the University of Michigan - Flint, the Genesee County Health Department, and other partners. Six schools with at least 50% of children with low socio-economic status and no functioning CSHT will be randomly assigned to be in a control or an intervention group. Approximately 1,000 children will be from 3 control schools and 1,000 children will be from 3 intervention schools. Control schools will implement the SWPs as usual during the intervention period. A CSHT consisting of parents, teachers, and community partners will be formed in the intervention schools. Intervention schools will implement SWPs with strengthened physical activity and dietary consumption components through the collaboration of the CSHT. At least 7 activities to strengthen the physical activity component and 1 activity to strengthen the dietary intake component of the SWPs will be developed. The strengthened SWPs will involve strategies such as indoor walking groups, class breaks for physical activity, a 5K run, a healthy consumption competition, navigation to local obesity prevention services, and other strategies developed by the CSHT. Teachers will be trained how to implement breaks for physical activity in their classes in the intervention schools. University students will research best practices, develop intervention materials, and implement SWPs. The specific aims are to: 1) establish a diverse CSHT to strengthen the SWPs and develop a multifactorial obesity prevention intervention; 2) investigate aspects of child factors that increase the risk of obesity in 6 schools with different racial/ethnic and socio-economic characteristics; 3) assess the effectiveness of the multifactorial intervention by comparing differences in physical activity, eating behaviors, and body mass index among children from 3 intervention and 3 control schools, and 4) examine the influence of training teachers how to implement physical activities during class on teachers? knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to exercise during class in the intervention schools.

Project Information

Type of Project: Research

Target Population: Children

Funding Agency: Health and Human Services, Department of-National Institutes of Health

Principal Investigators: Gergana Kodjecbacheva

Lead Institution: Flint Hlth Profession Studies

Project Partners
Contact Information

Email: gergana@umich.edu