Healthy lifestyles, in particular tackling obesity, can be promoted through extended schools. Nick Holt considers some practical approaches

With 80 per cent of schools now gaining Healthy Schools Status (HSS), there is a growing recognition of the link between healthy pupils and high attainment in school. At the Children’s Trust level of local strategic leadership, 125 out of 152 local authorities (82 per cent) have included a childhood obesity indicator as one of 35 priority targets in their Community Plan from 198 national indicators. In some areas of the country nearly one in three 11 year olds is overweight or obese and schools are being challenged to develop a more focused, tailored approach to health promotion, building on the criteria of the HSS kite mark to develop an enhanced programme.Since 2008, Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have been writing to parents to inform them of their child’s BMI (body mass index), through the national weighing and measuring programme for reception and Year 6 pupils. One local authority, Nottingham City, found that 30 per cent of parents actively sought and responded to follow-up help and advice. Building on the principles of distributed leadership and developing the team around the child, it is more important than ever to pull together the school working group to join up its strategy to tackle the obesity challenge.

To identify the stakeholders in the school community, it is helpful to consider the eight key messages promoted through the NHS’s Change4Life health campaign. These are covered in the Top Tips for Top Kids leaflet which is sent to families with their children’s BMI measurements.

  1. Swapping sugary snacks and drinks for ones that are lower in sugar, and drinking more juice, milk and water.
  2. Eating regular, proper meals to cut down snacking, and encourage children to eat breakfast.
  3. Educating children around the right-sized portions of food groups: not too little and not too much.
  4. Cutting down on snacks which are high in sugar, salt, fat and calories such as sweets, crisps, and biscuits.
  5. Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  6. Reducing saturated fat, ie grilling or baking food rather than frying.
  7. Promoting 60 minutes of activity a day, such as walking to school, sport and outdoor play.
  8. Avoiding sedentary hobbies and interests: ‘two hours max’ screen time for TV, computer or video games.

Who’s who in your school team
The school nurse can provide the results of this year’s weighing and measuring programme in terms of the relative score of the school against the local, regional and national picture. She can also provide the school with individual pupils’ BMI measurement results and which families have been informed as to whether their children fall into an overweight or obese category. For children not in Year 1 or 6, the school nurse can direct parents and carers to an online BMI ready reckoner for children.

Class teachers can review pupils’ progress during academic review days and schools are increasingly challenging pupils to set personal and social development targets based on the Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes. For example, Portchester Boys Secondary School, Bournemouth has achieved national recognition for supporting pupils to change their life styles where weight is an issue, through ongoing mentor support.

The Family learning coordinator could apply for funding to run a family cookery club, through the Local Authority’s grant programme for wider family learning. To inspire families with healthy recipes and get their children involved in the cooking, the Change4life website has produced a collection of 65 recipes, including ideas for breakfast, snacks and healthy puddings. 

The Ethnic Minority Achievement teacher will be aware that some cultural groups are particularly predisposed to a fatty diet, for example, the Afro-Caribbean tendency to fry food and some Asian diets that base their cooking on the use of ghee butter. School cooks in Hackney have produced a recipe book that substitutes high saturated fats with healthier alternatives

The after-school club manager has a range of resources to help organise cookery clubs. If the school doesn’t already have a cookery club, a good starting place is Continyou’s Let’s Cook: How to set up your own Cookery Club and Keep it Going, designed to help with planning and funding a sustainable club in primary or secondary schools.

For a summer term focus for your cookery club, a good starting point is the School Food Trust’s latest recipe book, The Real Meals – cold food that tastes great, to encourage pupils to make healthier food during the summer holidays.

For the breakfast club manager, a great way to engage parents is through a weekly or monthly family breakfast club where parents and children can prepare and try out breakfast club recipes. For recipes which also cut down food miles by using seasonal foods, see Continyou’s Breakfast Club Plus page.

The school sports coordinator can link the school to external partners as many sports clubs now receive funding to run local community health initiatives. The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation’s Family Health programme takes an innovative approach through a school-based course over six-seven weeks to encourage parents as health champions. Covering key messages around food literacy and organising sports activities, the course encouraged a school to set up a parents’ before school netball club. This is a free programme for schools around north east London and for more information contact Gareth Dace, the club’s education officer at gareth.dace @ tottenhamhotspur.comThe Children’s Centre is a key local partner as PCTs co-locate nutritionists to work alongside health visitors to promote breast feeding and provide support around weaning. One way of accessing PCT support for families is through a GP’s referral or self-referral to a targeted local programme such as MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it!). Set up by Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2004 and now operating in over 350 towns across the UK, a  typical MEND course is a fun course for families with children aged seven to 13 whose weight is over a healthy BMI, running twice a week after school in two-hour sessions over 10 weeks. The Extended Schools’ cluster can promote an enterprise approach, for example, through setting up a weight loss franchise. The cost of buying the franchise can be recouped through running normal adult sessions across the local schools, run by a trainer recruited by the cluster management committee. Through reducing costs such as premises hire, income can be reinvested into free targeted activities running alongside the weekly classes.The Adrian extended schools’ cluster (Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire) has introduced the Rosemary Conley ‘Kids2’ course as part of its community access programme. Rosemary Conley is the only one of the four commercial weight loss programmes to incorporate diet and exercise in the same class. ‘Kids2’ involves parents and their children working together to learn more about how to lead a healthy lifestyle over a six-week programme. For more information on the Kids2 programme, contact Lindsey Peters at lindsey.peters @

Finally, the school council is an important way of involving children and young people and promoting student voice. The Liverpool Schools’ Parliament, a group of 90 nine to 11-year-olds, has asked for the word ‘obesity’ to be replaced by ‘unhealthy weight’ because the term ‘obesity’ was putting young people off confronting their weight problems. Their spokesperson told the Liverpool Echo that the Schools’ Parliament wanted to change the negative connotation of obesity to a more positive way of promoting it, as in Liverpool, about a fifth of boys and nearly 15 per cent of girls are clinically obese.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Nick Holt is an education consultant. He set up to make extended services easier for schools and local authorities. Previously he has been a teacher, a local authority commissioning officer and most recently the Extended Services coordinator for an inner London borough.