Lessons from a peer-led obesity prevention programme in English schools

Health Promot Int. 2017 Apr 1;32(2):250-259. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dau008.


Obesity in young people is a major public health concern. Energy balance, the interrelationship between diet and physical activity, is known to be a key determinant. Evidence supports the development of school-based approaches to obesity prevention. ASSIST (A Stop Smoking in Schools Trial) is an effective school-based, peer-led smoking prevention programme for 12-13-year-old students, based on diffusion of innovations theory. The AHEAD (Activity and Healthy Eating in ADolescence) study tested the feasibility of adapting ASSIST to an obesity prevention intervention. The AHEAD intervention was tested and refined during a pilot study in one school, followed by an exploratory trial in six schools. Quantitative (self-report behavioural questionnaires and evaluation forms) and qualitative (structured observations, focus groups and interviews) research methods were used to examine the implementation and acceptability of the intervention. The potential effectiveness of the intervention in increasing healthy eating was measured using self-report behavioural questionnaires. Activity monitors (accelerometers) were used to measure physical activity. Results show it was feasible to implement the AHEAD intervention, which was well received. However, implementation was resource and labour intensive and relatively expensive. Furthermore, there was no evidence of promise that the intervention would increase physical activity or healthy eating in adolescents. Although diet and physical activity are both relevant for obesity prevention, the focus on two behaviours appeared too complex for informal diffusion through peer networks. This identifies a tension, particularly for adolescent peer-led health promotion, between the desire not to isolate or oversimplify health behaviours and the need to present clear, succinct health promotion messages.

Keywords: adolescent; health education; obesity prevention; school based.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Exercise
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Peer Group*
  • School Health Services*
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom