A study reported in the June 27 online edition of The New England Journal of Medicine shows that school-based programs focusing on nutrition and exercise are successful at helping children who are most at risk for obesity.

Researchers from Temple University and elsewhere examined the effects of a multicomponent school-based program addressing risk factors for diabetes among children whose race or ethnic group and socioeconomic status placed them at high risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. More than 4,600 students from 42 schools were randomly assigned to either a multicomponent school-based diet and exercise intervention group (21 schools) or an assessment-only control group (21 schools). The intervention group was offered healthier food choices in the cafeteria, in vending machines and during class events. Students in this group also underwent longer, more intense periods of physical activity than those in the control schools.

The result? The authors report in their abstract that they saw a “decrease in the primary outcome—the combined prevalence [of] both overweight and obesity—in both the intervention and control schools, with no significant difference between the school groups. However, the intervention schools had greater reductions in the secondary outcomes of BMI score, fasting insulin levels and prevalence of obesity. Similar findings were observed among students who were at or above the 85th percentile for BMI at baseline.”

Study authors concluded that while the comprehensive school-based program did not produce any greater decreases in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity, the intervention group did see significantly greater reductions in various indices of adiposity. “These changes may reduce the risk of childhood-onset type 2 diabetes,” the researchers concluded.