September 2010

School Environment Affects Diabetes Risk

Healthier foods at school, longer and more intense physical activity and lessons in healthy lifestyles can reduce obesity and other risk factors for diabetes. These findings, from an NIH-funded study, suggest that school-based changes might help at-risk kids improve their health.

Nearly 1 in 5 school-age children in the U.S. is obese. This excess weight can lead to many health problems. The most serious is type 2 diabetes.

The new study was conducted at 42 middle schools where many students are minorities or from low-income families. Half the schools were randomly chosen to use the study’s “intervention” program: longer gym classes, more nutritious foods and education in healthy behaviors.

About 4,600 students were tracked from the beginning of 6th to the end of 8th grade. At the start, nearly half were overweight or obese. Many had other signs of high diabetes risk.

At the end of the study, kids who had been overweight or obese at the intervention schools had a 21% lower obesity rate than those at the comparison schools. Other diabetes risk factors, like larger waist size, also fell more at the intervention schools.

“The study shows that a school-based program can help lower obesity and certain risk factors for type 2 diabetes in youth at high risk for the disease,” says Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, director of NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.