When older kids teach
younger children about nutrition and the benefits of exercise, the little ones
seem to lose weight and gain knowledge about healthy living, Canadian
Such a programme – called
Healthy Buddies – was tested in Manitoba elementary schools. It helped heavy
kids lose an average of half an inch off their waist and increased their
knowledge of diet and exercise, the researchers said.
"Engaging older youth
in delivering health messages to younger peers is an effective method for
preventing weight gain, improving knowledge of healthy living and increasing
self-esteem," said lead researcher Jonathan McGavock, an assistant
professor at the University of Manitoba.
Effective for overweight kids
"The effects of this
peer mentoring model of healthy living promotion is particularly effective for
overweight children," McGavock said.
This approach – detailed
online in the journal JAMA Paediatrics – could help
curb the obesity epidemic among young children in North America, he said. The
percentage of US children aged 6 to 11 considered obese increased from 7% in
1980 to nearly 18% in 2010, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and
McGavock said younger
children see older children as role models, which is why their advice is taken
more seriously than when the same message is delivered by adults.
likely pay more attention to messages or cues from older peers," he said.
"Therefore, proper role modelling of healthy behaviours should be a key
objective of elementary schools."
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Findings not surprising
Dr David Katz, director of
the Yale University Prevention Research Centre in New Haven, Connecticut, said he
wasn't surprised by the findings. "In my many interactions with parents
regarding the importance of good nutrition in childhood, one of the more
frequent protests over the years has been peer pressure," Katz said.
"Parents, it seems, often feel powerless to overcome the negative
influence of peers eating badly."
But Katz, a father of five,
said he has seen the upside of peer pressure. "My wife and I have shared
our devotion to healthy living with our children, and they have made it their
own," he said. "They, in turn, have helped pay it forward,
influencing their peers favourably."
This paper illustrates the
opportunity to convert negative peer pressure into a positive peer influence,
"We can teach healthy
living skills to older kids and they, of course, benefit," he said.
"They can then help pass these skills along to younger kids, and both
groups benefit some more. This paper highlights an important opportunity we
have only begun to leverage – peer pressure, for good."
Healthy Buddies has lessons
that focus on physical activity, healthy eating, self-esteem and body image.
The instruction is given by 9- to 12-year-olds to 6- to 8-year-olds.
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In this study, 19 schools
were randomly assigned to use the Healthy Buddies curriculum or their regular
instruction during the 2009-'10 school year.
Over the course of the
school year, the researchers looked at changes in waist size and body-mass
index (BMI), as well as physical activity, heart fitness, self-image and
knowledge about healthy living and diet.
Waist size dropped
They found that the waist
size of children in the Healthy Buddies programme dropped an average of half an
inch compared with children in the regular curriculum. There was no difference
in BMI – a measurement of fat based on height and weight – between the
Based on responses to
questionnaires, knowledge about healthy living, self-image and diet increased
among kids in the Healthy Buddies programme, compared with other children, the
researchers said. No differences, however, were seen between the groups in
terms of physical activity (steps taken per day) or heart and lung fitness, the
This suggests that the
reduction in waist size seen among the Healthy Buddies participants is
attributable to dietary changes, the researchers said.
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