This is an excerpt from Promoting Active Lifestyles in Schools With Web Resource by Jo Harris & Lorraine Cale.
One secondary school implemented a whole-school initiative to promote healthy behaviours among its pupils. In particular, the school governors and staff were keen to address childhood obesity as they were aware of an increase in childhood and adult obesity in their geographical area and considered it an issue in their school. As a consequence, the health behaviours targeted were healthy eating, healthy drinking and activity.
The initiative, named Route 2 Good Health, was introduced during assemblies for pupils in years 7 and 8 (i.e., 11- to 13-year-olds) at the beginning of the school year. It was also incorporated into the school’s personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education programme in the form of specific lessons at the start of each school term for years 7 and 8. Parents were informed of the initiative by means of a leaflet taken home by pupils and through information provided on the school’s website. Parents were asked to support the initiative by encouraging their children to make healthy food, drink and activity choices (e.g., eating fruits and vegetables and walking or cycling to school).
- Discussion points: What possible objections might parents raise to this sort of initiative? How would you deal with parents who took offense at the implication that they were not providing healthy food and drink to their child?
As part of the initiative, each pupil in years 7 and 8 was given a Route 2 Good Health booklet outlining the benefits of healthy eating and drinking and of being active. These benefits were also discussed in the Route 2 Good Health lessons in the PSHE programme, as were the consequences of not eating and drinking healthily and of being inactive. The booklet prompted pupils to reflect on their current eating, drinking and activity habits and to consider ways of improving these health behaviours. Planned improvements were recorded in the form of short-term, medium-term and long-term targets.
- Discussion point: What are some examples of possible planned improvements in children’s eating, drinking and activity habits?
The booklet also included pages on which to record eating, drinking and activity behaviours both in and out of school. Positive health behaviours demonstrated in school - for example, consuming or purchasing healthy meals and drinks at lunchtime and participating in extracurricular physical activity sessions - were rewarded with a stamp in the booklet from canteen staff and teachers. Pupils with the most stamps at the end of each school term received prizes at assemblies. These prizes included vouchers to spend at sport shops or local leisure centres.
- Discussion points: Do you think it appropriate to offer extrinsic rewards to motivate children to adopt healthy behaviours? Why, or why not? If they are used, what intrinsic rewards might be offered?
Teachers reported that the pupils generally welcomed the initiative, and there was an increase both in healthy food and drink choices and in participation in extracurricular activity sessions. In addition, pupils gave positive reports on the initiative in school council meetings. Accordingly, a one-year review of the initiative concluded that it had improved the health behaviours of many pupils. Recommendations for the future included recording and rewarding health behaviours performed outside of school and involving parents in confirming or â€˜stamping’ these behaviours.
- Discussion points: What are the possible benefits and limitations of increasing parental involvement in the programme? What actions might be taken to help sustain the programme?