Evidence on interventions for preventing unhealthy weight gain in adolescents is urgently needed. The aim of this paper is to describe the process evaluation for a three-year (2005-2008) project conducted in five secondary schools in the East Geelong/Bellarine region of Victoria, Australia. The project, 'It's Your Move!' aimed to reduce unhealthy weight gain by promoting healthy eating patterns, regular physical activity, healthy body weight, and body size perception amongst youth; and improve the capacity of families, schools, and community organisations to sustain the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity in the region.
The project was supported by Deakin University (training and evaluation), a Reference Committee (strategic direction, budgetary approval and monitoring) and a Project Management Committee (project delivery). A workshop of students, teachers and other stakeholders formulated a 10-point action plan, which was then translated into strategies and initiatives specific to each school by the School Project Officers (staff members released from teaching duties one day per week) and trained Student Ambassadors. Baseline surveys informed intervention development. Process data were collected on all intervention activities and these were collated and enumerated, where possible, into a set of mutually exclusive tables to demonstrate the types of strategies and the dose, frequency and reach of intervention activities.
The action plan included three guiding objectives, four on nutrition, two on physical activity and one on body image. The process evaluation data showed that a mix of intervention strategies were implemented, including social marketing, one-off events, lunch time and curriculum programs, improvements in infrastructure, and healthy school food policies. The majority of the interventions were implemented in schools and focused on capacity building and healthy eating strategies as physical activity practices were seen by the teachers as already meeting students' needs.
While substantial health-promoting activities were conducted (especially related to healthy eating), there remain further opportunities for secondary schools to use a whole-of-school approach through the school curriculum, environment, policies and ethos to improve healthy eating, physical activity and healthy body perceptions in youth. To achieve this, significant, sustained leadership will be required within the education sector generally and within schools specifically.