Locally implemented prevention programs may reverse weight trajectories in half of children with overweight/obesity amid low child-staff ratios: Results from a quasi-experimental study in France
Background: The aims of the present study were to assess changes in weight status between the first and last year of primary education among children with overweight/obesity in response to locally implemented school-based prevention programs, and to assess the influence of process indicators, expressed as child-staff ratios (CSRs), on these changes.Methods: To meet the study objectives, a quasi-experimental design was used. Four municipalities that systematically monitored the weight status of
... choolchildren and participated in the "Vivons en Forme" program agreed to provide the data available in their school medical service records. The local implementers involved in training sessions were mainly municipal staff in charge of serving midday school meals, which is compulsory in France, and those in charge of designing and facilitating creative, interactive activities at school between and after classes. CSRs were determined by occupation (school catering service/facilitator of extracurricular activities) and training session (healthy eating/physical activity) in each municipality program, and classified as low (1-5 children per adult) or moderate. Results: During the 4 years of primary education, weight status improved in half of the children with overweight/obesity, and worsened in 6.6% of children with overweight/normal weight. In children who remained overweight, the BMI z-score diminished over time. Estimates of the positive 4-year weight changes were related to low CSRs in locally implemented variations of the program. Estimates increased with age and were significantly higher in low-to-moderate CSR multicomponent interventions than moderate CSR single-component intervention (reference). The moderate CSR multicomponent intervention had a similar effect as the reference. The estimated negative weight change decreased with age.Conclusions: Our findings suggest that training ancillary school staff in experiential-focused interventions for healthy eating and physical activity in locally implemented school-based programs contributed positively to reducing childhood obesity during the four years of primary education without interfering with educational activities. The results also provide preliminary evidence that low CSRs could be pivotal for optimal outcomes, especially in deprived areas.