In the struggle against widespread obesity that begins in early childhood, new research indicates that schools may be the best place to start a solution.
Australian researchers examined 55 interventions in previous studies and concluded that school-based programs were key in getting kids to healthy weights, and there was little evidence that these programs would have a negative effect on young students' self-images.
"Obesity prevention programs in general are not harming children," said lead author Elizabeth Waters, chair of child public health at the Melbourne School of Population Health. However, "programs that don't make a commitment to preventing body image issues might hurt children by stigmatizing overweight children or send unhealthy messages about body image," she said.
"We looked for information about harms in our review and, while many studies did not report this information, of those that did, there was no evidence of harm with these programs," Waters said.
But while programs in schools may appear successful, there is less evidence, and a need for a greater focus, on children not yet in school, according to the study.
"The strongest evidence of effect is in the 0 to 5 year age group, but the majority of studies were conducted with children 6 to 12 years. So interventions implemented in the early years are effective, and need to be a priority in order to have the greatest impact," Waters said.