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Study shows project children healthier

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Study shows project children healthier

Thousands of Waikato schoolchildren involved in a regional health programme are fitter and healthier than their national counterparts according to one of the largest child health evaluations ever undertaken in New Zealand.

The region-wide health initiative Project Energize, funded by Waikato District Health Board (DHB) since 2005 and involving partnerships with M?ori and Pacific health providers and universities, was introduced into Waikato primary and intermediate schools in 2005. Currently it reaches 44,000 children or approximately 10 per cent of the primary school population of New Zealand.

A vital part of Project Energize are the 27 "Energizers" who work with schools to advise teachers and parents on physical activity and nutrition and to help implement fitness programmes.

A major evaluation of the programme has found Project Energize children are doing significantly better on a range of health measures compared to a range of 'control' groups.

The 5110 six to 11 year olds from 192 Waikato primary schools taking part in Project Energize were measured for body size, fitness and attitude to diet. The evaluation found:

� Obesity rates at 3% less than recent national averages

� Children had a lower body mass index than Waikato children of the same age measured in 2004 and 2006

� Waist measurements were substantially less than those measured in Waikato children of the same age measured in 2004 and 2006; 2.3 cm less for 6 to 8 year olds and 4.7 cm less for 9 to 11 year olds

� Children were able to run 550 metres 20 seconds (13%) faster compared to national data gathered for the same age groups between 2001 and 2007

A key feature of the study was the more than 3000 questionnaires returned by parents and wh?nau of children showing up to 76 per cent believed their children's nutrition and fitness had improved as a result of the programme. As well, 78 per cent of schools reported increased quality of daily fitness.

Waikato DHB paediatrician Dr David Graham said while Project Energize would continue to be evaluated in the coming years, these early findings could point to a generational change in behaviour.

"We need to continue our research to confirm Project Energize is actually making a difference long-term but certainly these results are heartening," he said.

"The increased levels of fitness found in Project Energize children provides real evidence the programme is having a significant impact."

Researcher and one of the report's lead authors, AUT University's Professor of Nutrition Elaine Rush, said the change in nutrition and fitness as a result of Project Energize would have significant benefits in the coming decades.

"Within another decade or so these children are going to be parents themselves so if we have achieved changes in attitude to health and fitness, we may achieve real generational change and that is a very exciting prospect."

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