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A systematic review and meta-analysis of school-based interventions with health education to reduce body mass index in adolescents aged 10 to 19 years

Jacob, C. M., Hardy-Johnson, P. L., Inskip, H. M. , Morris, T., Parsons, C. M., Barrett, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-1981-1976, Hanson, M., Woods-Townsend, K. & Baird, J. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of school-based interventions with health education to reduce body mass index in adolescents aged 10 to 19 years. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 18(1), article number 1. doi: 10.1186/s12966-020-01065-9


Adolescents are increasingly susceptible to obesity, and thus at risk of later non-communicable diseases, due to changes in food choices, physical activity levels and exposure to an obesogenic environment. This review aimed to synthesize the literature investigating the effectiveness of health education interventions delivered in school settings to prevent overweight and obesity and/ or reduce BMI in adolescents, and to explore the key features of effectiveness.

A systematic search of electronic databases including MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsychINFO and ERIC for papers published from Jan 2006 was carried out in 2020, following PRISMA guidelines. Studies that evaluated health education interventions in 10–19-year-olds delivered in schools in high-income countries, with a control group and reported BMI/BMI z-score were selected. Three researchers screened titles and abstracts, conducted data extraction and assessed quality of the full text publications. A third of the papers from each set were cross-checked by another reviewer. A meta-analysis of a sub-set of studies was conducted for BMI z-score.

Thirty-three interventions based on 39 publications were included in the review. Most studies evaluated multi-component interventions using health education to improve behaviours related to diet, physical activity and body composition measures. Fourteen interventions were associated with reduced BMI/BMI z-score. Most interventions (n = 22) were delivered by teachers in classroom settings, 19 of which trained teachers before the intervention. The multi-component interventions (n = 26) included strategies such as environment modifications (n = 10), digital interventions (n = 15) and parent involvement (n = 16). Fourteen studies had a low risk of bias, followed by 10 with medium and nine with a high risk of bias. Fourteen studies were included in a random-effects meta-analysis for BMI z-score. The pooled estimate of this meta-analysis showed a small difference between intervention and control in change in BMI z-score (− 0.06 [95% CI -0.10, − 0.03]). A funnel plot indicated that some degree of publication bias was operating, and hence the effect size might be inflated.

Findings from our review suggest that school-based health education interventions have the public health potential to lower BMI towards a healthier range in adolescents. Multi-component interventions involving key stakeholders such as teachers and parents and digital components are a promising strategy.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Adolescent health, Body mass index, Obesity, School, Health education, Physical activity, Diet, Nutrition, Intervention
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
SWORD Depositor:
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