The best way for primary school children to avoid obesity and maintain a healthy lifestyle is to join a lunchtime club, according to new research published by the UK Food Standards Agency.
A pilot study carried out in Oxford between January 2000 and June 2001 showed that school lunchtime clubs are a good way of conveying interactive and age-appropriate messages on nutrition and physical activity.
Researchers at Oxford Brookes University, who worked with children aged five to seven found that those who participated in a lunchtime nutrition project took on board many of the healthy lifestyle messages that were being promoted.
All the children who took part in the club improved their knowledge of nutrition and health, and many of the children also made changes to their diet such as eating more fruit.
Over 200 primary school children were recruited to the scheme at three primary schools near the university and were randomly allocated to one of four intervention groups.
The nutrition group was given information about how to eat healthily, while the physical activity group was shown how to keep fit through play. A third group was given both the nutrition and the activity information while the final group was a control group.
The information was delivered through a series of activity books and a comprehensive range of teaching resources designed specifically for the purpose, the researchers said.
The children's growth, nutrition knowledge, diet and physical activity were assessed at the beginning and end of the project, and parents were questioned about their own nutrition knowledge, physical activity and diet.
A questionnaire answered by all children in years the five to seven age group, regardless of whether they had participated in the project, found that those who had taken part in the nutrition or physical activity part of the scheme answered questions on nutrition and physical activity significantly better than those who had not.