Interventions to Increase Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Schools

A group of kindergartners eat a healthy lunch.The Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommends intervention approaches that combine meal or fruit and vegetable snack interventions with physical activity interventions based on findings that these combined interventions increase students’ physical activity, modestly increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, and decrease the number of students who are overweight or have obesity. The recommendation is based on a systematic review of 21 studies published through July 2017.

For this review, meal or fruit and vegetable snack interventions include school meal policies that adhere to nutritional guidelines, programs to provide fruits and vegetables to students, or both. Physical activity interventions include physical education classes, policies to provide more opportunities for physical activity, large-scale environmental changes to make physical activity easy and appealing, or a combination of these.

Meal or fruit and snack interventions combined with physical activity interventions support healthy behaviors that have immediate and long-term health benefits for children and adolescents. Increasing physical activity during childhood can improve cognition, bone health, fitness, and heart health, and reduce symptoms of depression (Physical Activity Guidelines, 2018).

The CPSTF finds insufficient evidence for three other school-based intervention approaches that combine dietary interventions with physical activity interventions (see summary of all school-based obesity reviews and findings). This does NOT mean the intervention approaches are ineffective; it means there is not enough evidence available to understand which of these approaches work, and in which settings.

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