Kaiser Permanente's Obesity Prevention Interventions in Schools Show Signs of Success for Improving Children's Health

'Dose' school-based physical activity and nutrition programs prove to be effective

Feb 05, 2013, 09:00 ET from Kaiser Permanente

OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 5, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Community-based efforts to change the environment are proving to be an effective way of encouraging more physical activity and nutrition among school-age children, according to findings announced today from Kaiser Permanente. Researchers examined a series of Kaiser Permanente community-based obesity prevention interventions in adults and children and found that the more effective obesity prevention interventions were those that were "high dose" — reaching large populations with greater strength — and those that focused specifically on changing child behaviors within the school environment.

Kaiser Permanente has been tracking the success of obesity-prevention efforts as part of its Community Health Initiatives to improve population health. The recent findings confirm that the high-dose interventions in and around school settings can make positive, measurable impacts on health behaviors.

"Kaiser Permanente and our partners have been at this work for a long time and it is exciting to see that we are having an impact," said Pamela Schwartz, MPH, Community Benefit director of program evaluation at Kaiser Permanente. "The concept of dose, in particular, has really galvanized our organization and served to clarify what we must do to have even greater impacts moving forward."

Behavior Changes for Healthy Eating and Active Living

Researchers from the Center for Community Health Evaluation in Seattle looked at the results from three comprehensive community-based collaboratives in Northern California and funded by five-year grants from Kaiser Permanente. The results, recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, showed children's physical activity behaviors could be improved as a result of such health interventions as increasing active minutes during school physical education classes, increasing minutes of activity in after-school programs, and increasing walking and biking to school. Physical activity in children is shown to improve bone health, heart health, mental health, and to support healthy weight. 

Further findings from community initiatives in Colorado, not yet published, showed that changes made in the school cafeteria lunch menu to offer more fresh produce resulted in improvements in kids' perception of healthy lunches and in their eating more fruits and vegetables.

Researchers also tracked and evaluated the number of people reached by community interventions with the strength of those interventions. They found that the more people reached and the stronger the impact on each person reached, the more likely there was to be an observable difference in behavior at the population level.

Population dose provides a standard for comparing diverse community health projects and a way to measure interventions in aggregate. An article about the population dose findings was recently published in the American Journal of Evaluation.

"Community change is hard to do and even harder to measure," explains Allen Cheadle, with the Group Health Research Institute and director of the Center for Community Health and Evaluation. "Our thinking around dose can enable public health leaders to better capture the impact that community health initiatives are having on community environments and individual behaviors."

Kaiser Permanente's Community Health Initiatives aim to increase healthy eating and active living in communities with Kaiser Permanente facilities. Active in over 40 communities, including 13 in California and 25 in Colorado, the program focuses on environmental and policy change, including work in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and the health sector. 

With school-based health interventions showing promising results in improving community health, Kaiser Permanente is making plans to expand its school health efforts in the coming months.

Authors on the American Journal of Health Promotion paper on evaluation findings and lessons learned in Northern California communities include: Allen Cheadle, PhD, Group Health Research Institute and Center for Community Health and Evaluation; Suzanne Rauzon, MPH, and Rebecca Spring, MPH, University of California, Berkeley; Pamela M. Schwartz, MPH, Scott Gee, MD, Jodi Ravel, MPH, and Dana Williamson, MPH, Kaiser Permanente; Esmeralda Gonzalez, Stanislaus County Health Services Agency; Coire Reilly, West County HEAL; and Anthony Taylor,  Department of Health Services, County of Sonoma.

In addition to Cheadle, authors on the American Journal of Evaluation paper on the dose evaluation methods include: Emily Bourcier, MPH, and Sandra Senter MPH, Group Health Research Institute; Pamela M. Schwartz, MPH, Kaiser Permanente; Suzanne Rauzon, MPH, and Rebecca Spring, MPH, University of California, Berkeley.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/newscenter.

For more information:
Catherine Hylas Saunders, csaunders@golinharris.com, 202.585.2603
Albert Martinez, albert.martinez@kp.org, 510.625.2124

SOURCE Kaiser Permanente