Researchers reviewing numerous anti-childhood obesity programs said Wednesday that the focus to prevent it should be on strategies that seek to change children’s environments rather than their behavior.

"There is now compelling evidence that strategies can be implemented to halt the growing rates of obesity in children. We know that doing nothing is likely to result in increases of overweight and obesity, particularly in countries where the prevalence continues to rise", says the lead researcher of this study, Prof Elizabeth Waters, who works at the McCaughey Centre at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The researchers said that environmental approaches improving physical activity and dietary habits are the key to prevention measures.

"Our findings show that obesity prevention is worth investing in. Given the range of programs included in this review, it is hard to say exactly which components are the best, but we think the strategies to focus on are those that seek to change environments, rather than just the behavior of individuals," says Waters.

With a growing number of obese children in the U.S. many approaches have been taken to deal with the problem.

To find which forms of intervention could have a maximum effect to help prevent obesity in children, an international team of researchers updated a previous Cochrane Review by searching for new evidence from existing studies to see which forms of intervention work best.

Researchers targeted children ages 6-12 with school-based programs that encourage healthy eating, physical activity, and positive attitudes to body image.

The researchers highlighted the key strategies that could be considered for prevention measures including healthy eating, physical activity and body image in school curricula.

The key findings are:

  • Increasing the number of opportunities for physical activity and the development of fundamental movement skills during the school week.
  • Improving the nutritional quality of food supplied in schools.
  • Creating environments and cultural practices within schools that support children eating healthier foods and being active throughout each day.
  • Professional development and capacity building activities which help to support teachers and other staff as they implement health promotion strategies and activities.
  • Giving more attention to parent support and home activities that encourage children to be more active, eat more nutritious foods and spend less time in screen-based activities.

"Research that aims to reduce childhood obesity must now concentrate on finding ways of embedding effective interventions in health, education and care systems, so that we can make population-wide, long term impacts on the levels of obesity," says Waters.