Breakthrough Study: Peer Mentoring Program Helps Curb Childhood Obesity

Diet and exercise are key components to curbing childhood obesity but the challenge is how do we get kids to change their habits? A new study has found that when older kids teach younger students about being healthy there was a visible improvement among the younger group.

Through a peer-mentoring program called “Healthy Buddies,” older children taught elementary school students lesson plans that focused on healthy eating, physical activity, and positive body image. In the place of teachers and adults presenting 21 weekly lesson plans categorized by “Go Move!”, “Go Fuel!”, and “Go Feel Good!”, it was hoped that by having older students, ages 9 to 12 years, take on the duty of teaching their younger counterparts, ages 6 to 8 years, there would be a positive effect on the students' health. The study, performed in 19 elementary schools in Manitoba, Canada, found that the peer-to-peer method of teaching was effective at reducing waist size and improving knowledge of healthy behaviors among the younger students.

As the author of the study, Jonathan McGavock, concludes, “These positive effects, coupled with perceived effectiveness and positive support from teachers involved in the program, suggest that the Healthy Buddies lesson plans are a viable and effective option for addressing childhood obesity and increasing healthy living knowledge within elementary schools.”

The “Healthy Buddies” program is not the first program to take on childhood obesity. It is breakthrough however, as it highlights the new and integral aspects to challenging kids to make smarter choices through peer advocacy. Here in the United States, First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to encourage healthy changes among kids through the government endorsed Let's Move and MyPlate initiatives. She has said of the Let’s Move campaign, now in its fourth year, that “staying healthy is about dedication, and consistency, and eating right.” She is correct. Now the findings from the “Healthy Buddies” study could suggest that if peers were to teach kids about what it takes to be healthy following the guidelines of the Let’s Move and MyPlate initiatives, there would be a visible and positive effect on students' health through those programs too.

We encourage more schools to engage in innovative programs to teach students about healthy living, particularly through a peer-to-peer approach. With the right tools and lesson plans, students have the power to help change the trajectory of their peers' health and the childhood obesity epidemic. Additionally, with health initiatives in schools, there is an added bonus that it is likely students' academic outcomes will improve, as other studies have shown there is a positive link between physical health and academic success.

Get more information about the “Healthy Buddies” study: Effectiveness of Peer-Based Healthy Living Lesson Plans on Anthropometric Measures and Physical Activity in Elementary School Students