School physical activity and nutrition program improves health

By Eva Flygare Wallén
Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

Young people with intellectual disabilities (ID) lead more sedentary lifestyle and are at risk for being obese earlier in their lives. This may lead to early development of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and premature death.

What did you do in your research?
We wanted to examine if general healthy school environment including daily physical activity and accessible healthy food choices could reduce risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases (concerning both heart disease and metabolic disorders such as diabetes). We wanted to make school hours a "hands-on" daily experience for healthy living habits in the context of peers and staff. Students had 30-60 minutes of physical activity during the school hours. Additionally, we replaced unhealthy food choices and increased availability of fruits and vegetables in the school environment.

What did you find out?
Students who participated in the program lowered their cardiometabolic risk factors over the two years. This may be the result of many different factors including increased physical activity, improved food choices, and increased social support and role modeling during the program.

What are the take-home messages?
Schools have the opportunity to make school hours a "hands-on" experience to improve health by incorporating daily physical activity and including fruits and vegetables as healthy food options. Additionally, school staff are important role models and social support.

To learn more about these findings contact Eva Flygare Wallen.

Full Journal Article
Wallen, E.F., Mullersdorf, M., Christensson, K., and Marcus, C. (2013). A school-based intervention associated with improvements in cardiometabolic risk profiles in young people with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 17(1), 38-50.