Targeted interventions the key to healthier lifestyles

The Hunter-based Physical Activity Leaders (PALs) program was specifically designed to address obesity and increase physical activity in low-active adolescent boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

While evidence suggests that obesity rates have levelled off in recent years, youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds are defying this trend.

One hundred students in Year 9 from four Hunter schools took part in the six month program and participants were divided into a control group and an intervention group.

Dr David Lubans from the University of Newcastle’s School of Education said of those who completed the program, obesity and overweight rates in the intervention group dropped from 30 per cent to 18 per cent while the control group remained relatively unchanged.

Students also reported increased fitness levels and significant improvements in their physical self-perceptions, which may be important for maintaining social and emotional well-being,” Dr Lubans said.

“This shows that if you provide convenient access to a structured program tailored to the needs of your target group great results can be achieved.”

The program included school sport sessions, interactive seminars, lunchtime activities, physical activity and nutrition handbooks, leadership sessions and pedometers for self-monitoring all at no cost to the participants.
The physical activity component specifically focused on resistance training.

“Considering the importance of muscularity and physical strength to self-esteem among young males, resistance training was the ideal activity for the students we were targeting,” Dr Lubans said.

“Data shows that physical activity declines during adolescence and a large percentage of Australian men are overweight or obese. PALs provides young people the skills and knowledge they can rely on well into the future to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

A novel aspect of the PALs intervention was the option for participants to gain accreditation as a physical activity leader in their schools and at home. To gain accreditation participants delivered lunch-time physical activity sessions with Year 7 students.

The research findings were recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

The project was supported by the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the Rotary Club of Newcastle Enterprise.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Local Health Network and the community.

Media contact: Dr David Lubans on 02 4921 2049 or 0406 627 011.