Healthy Lifestyle intervention in 2010 caused the decline of prevalence of obesity and the growth of physical fitness of children on the national level
Based on our previous findings and good experience with school-based physical activity intervention programme, a national project Healthy Lifestyle was introduced in school year 2010/2011. This was also one of the best examples of the evaluative strength of the SLOfit system. Through SLOfit system the Laboratory detected an accelerated increase of childhood overweight from the mid-1990s onwards that was predicted to exceed 30% of the population in 2020 and we proposed to the Ministry to intervene with the introduction of additional 2 hours of PE per week, administered by newly employed PE teachers. The progress of the included 30,000 children was monitored through the SLOfit system for the next five years and each year an emphasis was put on the poorest component of physical fitness from the preceding school year. Such targeted intervention caused the decline of prevalence of obesity and the growth of physical fitness in all Slovenian schools and the trends from 2010 to 2015 today suggest only 22% prevalence of overweight in 2020, which is at the level of the year 2004.
Parallel to the Healthy Lifestyle intervention, several nation-wide initiatives were also introduced within the educational system based on our findings and suggestions. The efforts focused mainly on providing more opportunity for physical activity within the school curriculum. At the same time foods with little nutritional value were excluded from school meals and healthy dietary choices were accentuated. These initiatives received a lot of media attention, making the fight against childhood obesity an important public concern, which increased the awareness among both the children and their parents.
Intervention Youth for Youth
Research-based evidence about the effects of Healthy lifestyle intervention gave us more public attention. We have taken the advantage of this and started informing the public about the problem of poor physical fitness of students from vocational secondary schools. We determined that in Slovenia young people can be divided in two extreme typical groups according to their lifestyle, which have, in relation to the (un)healthy habits, been named the “coffee and cigarettes” and the “sport” lifestyles (Jurak, 2006). Since unhealthy lifestyle has been a more common practice among students from vocational and professional/technical schools, our analyses showed that physical fitness of adolescents attending these schools is much worse than those from the gymnasium programme (Kovač, Strel, Jurak, & Leskošek, 2012). The differences are smaller amongst boys than girls, but we came to a striking evidence that girls from gymnasiums achieve better absolute results in physical fitness than boys from vocational schools.
We consider the students from vocational schools to be the most critical population since most of them come from deprivileged environments with lower support for physical activity and poorer nutrition. However, these groups of adolescents will soon enter the labor market doing mostly physically demanding jobs which they will not be able to perform effectively due to their poor physical fitness. This is a potential health-care and social hazard which demands immediate action. Therefore, we have suggested to the Government to introduce an intervention called Youth for Youth. In this intervention, young PE teachers will plan and implement special extra-curricular physical activity programs, which will be tailored to the interests and future job demands of vocational-school students. The Government accepted our proposal and the intervention is planned to start in September 2017.
Let’s enjoy health
In 2016, we finished with cross-sectional project Let’s enjoy health. The goal of this project was to evaluate a model of cooperation between schools, primary health care centres and local communities to ensure supporting environment for healthy lifestyle, focused on PA and nutrition. Within this project the health-care prevention teams in local communities have been established. These teams included schoolteachers, led by the PE teachers, school physicians and representatives of local communities. The main actions of this project were:
- Identification of health-risk students by SLOfit (school) and medical examinations (health-care); according to diagnosis of student‘s fitness, health and social characteristics individual objectives were set and also school doctor set individual recommendations for physical exercise and diet for each students.
- Special treatment for health-risk students, which included:
- additional lessons of PE in school; individualization based on the doctor‘s recommendations
- nutritional workshops for students and their parents in school
- programmes within health-care system (such as):
- Adopted physical exercise with kinesiologist for students with motor-control problems
- Workshop for obese students
- Workshop with kinesiologist or physiotherapist for students with spine problems
Another part of project were actions for ensuring more PA to all children. The following actions were performed in this regard:
- cooperation of PE teacher and physician regarding the excusing from PE (Jurak & Kovač, 2011a; Jurak & Kovač, 2011b),
- substitutions of phsician’s excuse with physician’s recommendations for exercising,
- minute for health (in some schools students are engaged in short physical activity breaks in classrooms already for decades),
- physical activity recess (in many schools one longer recess is devoted for variety of physical activities; in some schools PE teachers prepare special individual programmes for obese students for this time),
- designing school environment for more spontaneous PA of students.