Objective: The objective was to test the hypothesis that a community-based environmental change intervention could prevent weight gain in young children (7.6 +/- 1.0 years).
Research methods and procedures: A non-randomized controlled trial was conducted in three culturally diverse urban cities in Massachusetts. Somerville was the intervention community; two socio-demographically-matched cities were control communities. Children (n = 1178) in grades 1 to 3 attending public elementary schools participated in an intervention designed to bring the energy equation into balance by increasing physical activity options and availability of healthful foods within the before-, during-, after-school, home, and community environments. Many groups and individuals within the community (including children, parents, teachers, school food service providers, city departments, policy makers, healthcare providers, before- and after-school programs, restaurants, and the media) were engaged in the intervention. The main outcome measure was change in BMI z-score.
Results: At baseline, 44% (n = 385), 36% (n = 561), and 43% (n = 232) of children were above the 85th percentile for BMI z-score in the intervention and the two control communities, respectively. In the intervention community, BMI z-score decreased by -0.1005 (p = 0.001, 95% confidence interval, -0.1151 to -0.0859) compared with children in the control communities after controlling for baseline covariates.
Discussion: A community-based environmental change intervention decreased BMI z-score in children at high risk for obesity. These results are significant given the obesigenic environmental backdrop against which the intervention occurred. This model demonstrates promise for communities throughout the country confronted with escalating childhood obesity rates.