Schools are on the front line in the war against obesity

Improving health literacy and better understanding the importance of physical activity helps schools tackle the obesity crisis allowing children to be happier and healthier.

Under the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the clear link to negative health outcomes for people who are overweight, the UK government has released details of their latest crackdown on obesity.

This follows on from separate research showing that over one third of children leave primary school overweight or obese. More than that, there are clear indications that children who are overweight when they finish their primary education will go on to be overweight as adults.

While it is encouraging that steps are being taken to reduce obesity, the new guidelines are very focussed on food, with a strong emphasis on weight loss strategies and diet. For children, the initiatives fall far short of what is required. Banning adverts for fast food before 9pm, for example, will have no impact on an audience that doesn’t watch mainstream television.

The fact is, there is no silver bullet for solving the problem of obesity in children. There are hundreds of incredibly complex underlying factors that contribute. However, it is widely accepted that schools are vital in helping to tackle the obesity epidemic.

Primary school children spend up to half of their waking day at school, so it represents a large part of their lives. They are also at their most impressionable when they are aged 7-11, so that is the time to look at ways of preventing them from gaining weight in the first place. Schools play a key role in delivering the right messages on health, and influencing behaviours and the choices children make.

The importance of data in tracking physical activity

Moki has built up a raft of data supporting the fact that children’s health and well-being is closely linked to the amount of physical activity they are regularly undertaking. What is interesting is how physical activity varies from child to child. Data gathered from more than 1200 children wearing Moki bands across the country shows there is a 10-fold variation in daily physical activity between pupils (from 1500 steps a day to >15,000 steps a day).

There are also strong systematic effects caused by the local school environment. The average amount of activity in one school can be up to double the amount of activity in another school. And within almost every school there are inequalities in the same environment. For example, girls record, on average, 20% less physical activity than boys.

There are growing fears that lockdown has caused decreases in physical activity and highlighted the gaps in our society. In his recent school dinners campaign, footballer Marcus Rashford shone a light on some of the stark inequalities that still exist. Children from low-income backgrounds and lower socio-economic groups tend to have lower levels of physical activity, making it even more important to level the playing field and give everyone access to better information and tools to drive improvement.

Digital tools like Moki can help teachers build active learning programmes that give all children the chance at developing a healthier lifestyle. The feedback we receive from parents and teachers is that they are completely unaware of these inequalities until they see the data. Ultimately, it shows that active learning curriculums and decisions made by teachers have a very important role to play on pupils’ physical activity. But the opportunities are there for schools to provide safe environments where children from all backgrounds can improve their health literacy.

If you'd like to kow more about how schools and organisations are using Moki to support their health and well-being strategy don't hesitate to get in touch.