Long-lost health manual shown to buck Indian school obesity trend

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags Nutrition

A long-forgotten school health manual, combined with appropriate training for teachers, could be central in the fight against childhood obesity, Chennai researchers have found.

Doctors from the MV Hospital for Diabetes trained schoolteachers to follow the Comprehensive School Health Manual, which was released a decade ago by the south Indian city’s board of education to offer guidance on diet and fitness for classes, though many schools are still not aware of its existence.

The results, which were published in the International Journal of Tropical Diseases (PDF)​, were "expected but encouraging​,” said Vijay Viswanathan, the hospital’s head diabetologist, at a time when Indian youngsters are facing an obesity epidemic. 

The research team evaluated the programme’s effectiveness over three years across a group of 1,357 pupils from seven schools, whose changes in weight, eating habits and vascular health were assessed.

Sixty-four per cent of pupils who followed the manual’s guidelines were found to maintain better diets. This group also witnessed a significant reduction in body mass and body fat, and maintained a sustained reduction in calorie intake.

The study began with 22% of girls and 13.5% of boys overweight. “But we found that when teachers were trained, the manual’s guidelines were implemented, and this led to a reduction in body mass index, body fat percentage and diastolic blood pressure as well as better eating habits​,” Dr Viswanathan said.

The campaign's success is evident by the change in the BMI and eating pattern of school kids. The healthy lifestyle was completely adopted by the children​.”

The study concluded that: “A structured behaviour intervention delivered through a training of trainers empowered children to adopt healthy behaviours towards weight management. It is crucial to sustain these behaviours for positive impact​.” 

Over the next two years, MG Hospital plans to help 132 state schools schools in Chennai by offering training to trainers on the programme.

We will work with the school principal, the physical training teacher and the science teacher. Through this, we are looking at effective implementation of the health manual. We will also follow up with the schools​,” Dr Viswanathan said.

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