It has been said it takes a village to raise a child. Now, a new study suggests that it might take a community to achieve modest reductions in obesity rates among U.S. children.
The study authors tested a new program in two low-income Massachusetts communities. The goal was to get elementary and middle school students to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink less sugar-sweetened beverages, get more physical activity and sleep, and reduce screen time.
Interventions ranged from individual and family counseling, to providing physical activity equipment to schools, the researchers explained.
Children in the two test communities were compared with a “control group” of children in nine similar communities without the program. Obesity rates were assessed among 1st, 4th and 7th graders, starting from four years before the program began and at several points during its progression.
The obesity rate among 7th graders in one of the test communities was 2 percent to 3 percent lower than among children in the control group, the findings showed.
In both test communities, kids in grades 4 and 7 drank less sugar-sweetened beverages and more water, according to the report. In addition, students in one of the test communities spent less time in front of TV and computer screens than those in the control group.
“While our results were modest, they were achieved over a relatively short period of time, which is important given the substantial challenges of implementing a large-scale community initiative to address obesity,” study lead author Rebecca Franckle, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a school news release.
The study is scheduled for publication in the July issue of the journal Obesity.
The American Heart Association has more on preventing childhood obesity.