Background: As concern about youth obesity continues to mount, there is increasing consideration of widespread policy changes to support improved nutritional and enhanced physical activity offerings in schools. A critical element in the success of such programs may be to involve students as spokespeople for the program. Making such a public commitment to healthy lifestyle program targets (improved nutrition and enhanced physical activity) may potentiate healthy behavior changes among such students and provide a model for their peers. This paper examines whether student's "public commitment"--voluntary participation as a peer communicator or in student-generated media opportunities--in a school-based intervention to prevent diabetes and reduce obesity predicted improved study outcomes including reduced obesity and improved health behaviors.
Methods: Secondary analysis of data from a 3-year randomized controlled trial conducted in 42 middle schools examining the impact of a multi-component school-based program on body mass index (BMI) and student health behaviors. A total of 4603 students were assessed at the beginning of sixth grade and the end of eighth grade. Process evaluation data were collected throughout the course of the intervention. All analyses were adjusted for students' baseline values. For this paper, the students in the schools randomized to receive the intervention were further divided into two groups: those who participated in public commitment activities and those who did not. Students from comparable schools randomized to the assessment condition constituted the control group.
Results: We found a lower percentage of obesity (greater than or equal to the 95th percentile for BMI) at the end of the study among the group participating in public commitment activities compared to the control group (21.5% vs. 26.6%, p = 0.02). The difference in obesity rates at the end of the study was even greater among the subgroup of students who were overweight or obese at baseline; 44.6% for the "public commitment" group, versus 53.2% for the control group (p = 0.01). There was no difference in obesity rates between the group not participating in public commitment activities and the control group (26.4% vs. 26.6%).
Conclusions: Participating in public commitment activities during the HEALTHY study may have potentiated the changes promoted by the behavioral, nutrition, and physical activity intervention components.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00458029.