Background: Unhealthy lifestyles in early childhood are a major global health challenge. These lifestyles often persist from generation to generation and contribute to a vicious cycle of health-related and social problems. This design article presents a study evaluating the effects of two novel healthy school interventions. The main outcome measure will be changes in children's body mass index (BMI). In addition, lifestyle behaviours, academic achievement, child well-being, socio-economic differences, and societal costs will be examined.
Methods: In close collaboration with various stakeholders, a quasi-experimental study was developed, for which children of four intervention schools (n = 1200) in the southern part of the Netherlands are compared with children of four control schools (n = 1200) in the same region. The interventions started in November 2015. In two of the four intervention schools, a whole-school approach named 'The Healthy Primary School of the Future', is implemented with the aim of improving physical activity and dietary behaviour. For this intervention, pupils are offered an extended curriculum, including a healthy lunch, more physical exercises, and social and educational activities, next to the regular school curriculum. In the two other intervention schools, a physical-activity school approach called 'The Physical Activity School', is implemented, which is essentially similar to the other intervention, except that no lunch is provided. The interventions proceed during a period of 4 years. Apart from the effectiveness of both interventions, the process, the cost-effectiveness, and the expected legal implications are studied. Data collection is conducted within the school system. The baseline measurements started in September 2015 and yearly follow-up measurements are taking place until 2019.
Discussion: A whole-school approach is a new concept in the Netherlands. Due to its innovative, multifaceted nature and sound scientific foundation, these integrated programmes have the potential to form a template for primary schools worldwide. The effects of this approach may extend further than the outcomes associated with well-being and academic achievement, potentially impacting legal and cultural aspects in our society.
Trial registration: The study protocol was registered in the database ClinicalTrials.gov on 14-06-2016 with the reference number NCT02800616 .
Keywords: Academic Achievement; Accelerometer; Children; Nutrition; Obesity; Physical activity; Prevention; Primary school Intervention; School health.