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Peer-Led Healthy Living School Intervention Deemed Effective

Effective for reducing central adiposity and improving knowledge of healthy living behaviors

TUESDAY, Feb. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A peer-led healthy living intervention in elementary schools is effective for reducing central adiposity and improving healthy living behavior knowledge, according to research published online Feb. 10 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Robert G. Santos, Ph.D., from the Government of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and colleagues examined the effectiveness of a peer-led healthy living program (Healthy Buddies) on weight gain using data from 19 elementary schools, including 647 students aged 6 to 12 years. Schools were randomly allocated to receive regular curriculum or Healthy Buddies lesson plans. Older students (9- to 12-year-olds) delivered lesson plans to younger students (6- to 8-year-olds), targeting physical activity, healthy eating, and self-esteem and body image.

At baseline, the researchers found that 36 percent of children were overweight or obese and 11 percent achieved the recommended 13,500 steps per day. Compared with controls, waist circumference decreased significantly in the intervention group (−1.42 cm; P = 0.03), with reductions particularly significant for children who were younger, who were overweight or obese, and who attended First Nation schools. Younger peers who received the intervention had significant improvements in self-efficacy, healthy living knowledge, and dietary intake. No between-group differences were seen in body mass index z score, daily step counts, or cardiorespiratory fitness.

"The Healthy Buddies lesson plans are a viable and effective option for addressing childhood obesity and increasing healthy living knowledge within elementary schools," the authors write.

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