As childhood obesity rates soar, initiatives in the classroom aimed at teaching nutrition and physical activity, like the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, become more prevalent. But are they working?

A new study of 26 school-based nutrition interventions in the United States and found while many of these programs are on the right track, there are some crucial pieces missing.

Investigators performed a content analysis of Kindergarten-through-12th grade school-based nutrition interventions which fit into the study's ten components proposed for developing future effective school-based nutrition interventions.

Findings from this study reveal that classroom nutrition education (85%) followed by parental involvement at home (62%) were the two intervention components used most often.

Less frequent components included establishment of foodservice guidelines (15%), community involvement (15%), inclusion of ethnic/cultural groups (15%), inclusion of incentives for schools (12%), and involvement of parents at school (8%).

This study documents that although many components of nutrition education have been successfully included in our children's school-based interventions, there are still some missing links.

"Schools continue to be an important location for childhood obesity prevention interventions. However, it is imperative that school-based interventions be developed and implemented to achieve maximum results,” said lead author Dr. Mary Roseman, who conducted this work while at the University of Kentucky and The University of Mississippi.

Limited research

According to Roseman, a periodic review of research on school-based nutrition interventions provides the opportunity to examine previous research and identify successful strategies and tactics for future studies that will lead to improved health outcomes in children.

Currently, there is limited research about the effectiveness of nutrition education interventions.

Roseman, along with co-authors Dr. Martha Riddell, Registered Dietitian and Professor of Public Health at University of Kentucky, and Jessica Niblock, Registered Dietitian with the Cincinnati Health Department feel this is an area of research that has to be investigated to ensure children are educated on how to be healthy, productive adults.

"With increased awareness, urgency, and funding to support nutrition interventions and research focusing on reversing the rising trend of overweight and obese children in the US, synthesizing findings from previous studies to inform research and program development, and identifying potentially high-impact strategies and tactics are warranted,” write the authors.

The researchers think the article emphasizes the importance of providing funding support so more researchers can access the effectiveness of nutrition education in the classroom, along with other links like cafeterias, homes, and communities.

The study appears in the January/February 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education.