Teaching healthy eating habits at schools is effective in dealing with unhealthy eating attitudes in children, says a new study.

The Healthy ONES (Healthy Options for Nutrition Environments in Schools) study used a public participatory health approach to change nutrition environments and policies in eight elementary and middle schools. The study lasted for three years. Researchers worked with teachers and administration to change the environment in the schools such as replacing all classroom awards with non-food prizes and serving healthy foods at school-events.

"Schools are an ideal place for establishing life-long healthy eating habits, but until now that task has been easier said than done. The Healthy ONES study helped us understand how communities and schools could work together to get kids to eat healthier at school and help address childhood," said lead author Karen J. Coleman, PhD, from Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research and Evaluation.

Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that 12.5 million children and teens are affected by obesity, nearly 17 percent of all children in U.S. According to the agency, children now are getting heavier than ever. Experts believe that tackling obesity at an early age helps kids become more aware of healthy food choices.

"If we want to have the broad reach and impact necessary to address the enormity of the childhood obesity epidemic, it's critical that we engage children and their families within school communities. Powerful results like these are why school-based interventions are a key element of Kaiser Permanente's prevention strategy, and why we will be redoubling our efforts in schools in the years to come," said Loel Solomon, PhD, vice president of community health at Kaiser Permanente.

The study was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

"Our findings are significant because previous school-based interventions often have had little success in changing behaviors The Healthy ONES study suggests that community-driven process interventions that focus on implementation and stakeholder engagement can help schools implement their current federally mandated wellness policies. These types of interventions may have a better chance to impact child obesity than other attempts to change school health practices," said Dr. Coleman.