- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hardly any U.S. public schools are implementing evidence-based programs to combat obesity despite the substantial amount of research that’s gone into developing them, according to a paper published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Further, some schools appear to be exacerbating body-weight stigma or unhealthy behaviors by conducting “Biggest Loser” contests among staff or devising their own programs for students, it said.

Researchers surveyed nearly 250 schools and found that less than half of them offered any kind of obesity-prevention program, while fewer than 3 percent of schools reported using a program that’s been proven to be effective.

“Among schools that are trying to implement obesity prevention or school wellness programs, most appear to be developing programs on their own,” researchers wrote in Preventing Chronic Disease, the CDC’s peer-reviewed online journal. “This finding is concerning, both because school staff should not be obligated to devote scarce time and resources to developing programs when programs already exist and because well-intentioned school staff may be instituting programs that are ineffective and even potentially harmful.”

Researchers said K-12 schools tended to focus strictly on weight loss instead of programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity to combat obesity and improve overall health.

“Particularly concerning are staff weight-loss competitions in the style of the television show ‘The Biggest Loser,’ ” the researchers wrote. “The show has been associated with increasing individuals’ negatively biased attitudes toward people with obesity.”

Schools frequently cited a lack of funding, training, or time as barriers to implementing an evidence-based program.

Researchers said public health agencies should consider partnering with education departments to support effective programs and “de-implement” ones that are ineffective or promote unhealthy behaviors.

Evidence-based programs include — among others — the Safe Routes to School program, which tries to reverse the decline in children walking or biking to school, and TAKE10, which employs 10-minute breaks to get kids moving in the classroom.

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