School-Based Obesity-Prevention Policies and Practices and Weight-Control Behaviors among Adolescents

Published:November 23, 2016DOI:



      The promotion of healthy eating and physical activity within school settings is an important component of population-based strategies to prevent obesity; however, adolescents may be vulnerable to weight-related messages, as rapid development during this life stage often leads to preoccupation with body size and shape.


      This study examines secular trends in secondary school curricula topics relevant to the prevention of unhealthy weight-control behaviors; describes cross-sectional associations between weight-related curricula content and students’ use of weight-control behaviors; and assesses whether implementation of school-based obesity-prevention policies/practices is longitudinally related to students’ weight-control behaviors.


      The Minnesota School Health Profiles and Minnesota Student Survey (grades 9 and 12) data were used along with National Center for Education Statistics data to examine secular trends, cross-sectional associations (n=141 schools), and longitudinal associations (n=42 schools).

      Main outcome measures

      Students self-reported their height and weight along with past-year use of healthy (eg, exercise), unhealthy (eg, fasting), and extreme (eg, use laxatives) weight-control behaviors.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Descriptive statistics, generalized estimating equations, and generalized linear regression models accounting for school-level demographics.


      There was no observable pattern during the years 2008 to 2014 in the mean number of curricula topics addressing unhealthy weight-control behaviors, despite an increase in the prevalence of curricula addressing acceptance of body-size differences. Including three vs fewer weight-control topics and specifically including the topic of eating disorders in the curricula was related to a lower school-level percent of students using any extreme weight-control behaviors. In contrast, an overall measure of implementing school-based obesity-prevention policies/practices (eg, prohibited advertising) was unrelated to use of unhealthy or extreme behaviors.


      Results suggest obesity-prevention policies/practices do not have unintended consequences for student weight-control behaviors and support the importance of school-based health education as part of efforts to prevent unhealthy behaviors.


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      N. Larson is a senior research associate, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      C. S. Davey is a senior research fellow, Biostatistical Design and Analysis Center, Clinical and Translational Science Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      C. E. Caspi is an assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Program in Health Disparities Research, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      M. S. Nanney is an associate professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Program in Health Disparities Research, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      M. Y. Kubik is a professor and chair, Department of Nursing, College of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.