Our children winning battle of the bulge

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 05:00 15/08/2014
healthy kids
SUPPLIED
PICTURE OF HEALTH: Waikato children Manaia Wetere, 5, and Gabriel Bishop, 7, running while participating in Project Energize.

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Primary school children in the Waikato are leading the way in the global fight against childhood obesity.

A joint initiative between the Waikato District Health Board and Sports Waikato has seen every primary school in the region join their healthy exercise and nutrition programme called Project Energized.

First conceived in 2005 the project was designed to target the growing problem of childhood obesity by educating children about the need for healthy eating habits and 20 minutes of exercise per day.

Initially 124 schools participated in a randomised trial of the project to assess the possible outcomes.

Almost 10 years later the project has been recognised globally for its success and reaches more than 44,000 primary school children.

It has also expanded to Under 5s Energize which includes 130 Waikato preschoolers.

Lead researcher Elaine Rush said the project was unique.

"It is successful because it looks to the future," she said.

"It is not looking for a three-year fix. The vision of the project was to reduce the burden of chronic disease at an in tergenerational level," she said.

Rush believes long term there will be a reduction in the incidence of obesity and other "lifestyle diseases" such as diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.

The success of the project has captured the Ministry of Health's interest and looks to be rolled out nationwide in coming years.

Overseas, a pilot programme has begun in County Cork, Ireland.

Australia and Singapore, countries that also have rising rates of childhood obesity, have indicated they would be interested in piloting the programme.

Rush said Project Energize supported people by showing them how to make healthy choices.

"Project Energize is so practical. It shows people how to do rather than what to do and no child is left out. It's really changing the ethos of the community, it works with supermarkets, people, parents, children and teachers."

Since the programme's inception, Waikato primary school children have recorded a 3 per cent lower obesity rate than the national average.

Children in the district now record a lower body mass index than they did in 2004 and they run up to 20 seconds faster than children outside the region.

The programme collects quantitative data to measure its outcomes.

In 2011, Sport Waikato surveyed 3000 parents and whanau which showed 76 per cent of them believed their children's fitness had improved as a result of the programme, while 78 per cent of schools reported students' daily fitness had improved.

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This year, the district health board gave the project $1,952,367 in funding, which equalled less than $45 per child.

- Waikato Times

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