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All-Wales network targets obesity, smoking and exercise in schools

5 June 2014

all-Wales network targets obesity

A new all-Wales network to improve the health of school children is being launched today (Thursday 5 June 2014). Based on a Canadian model, the School Health Research Network (SHRN) aims to gather good-quality data on children's health to address issues such as obesity, smoking and physical activity.

Delegates from secondary schools across the country will attend the launch at Cardiff's City Hall.

Led by Cardiff University, the SHRN is a network of nearly 70 secondary schools across Wales who have joined forces with researchers and other organisations supporting young people's health to increase the quality, quantity and relevance of school-based health improvement research in Wales.

Professor Simon Murphy, from Cardiff University's School of Social Sciences, said: "The Schools Health Research Network is an exciting new initiative funded by the MRC. It brings together policy makers, public health practitioners, teachers, parents, pupils and academics to identify health needs, promote evidence based practice, and identify emerging research questions that are important to schools. This continuous cycle of collaboration offers a real opportunity to target resources in a more cost effective manner and to address some of the key public health challenges of our time such as smoking, alcohol misuse, diet and activity and emotional well-being."

The Network is based on a model pioneered by Professor Steve Manske at the University of Waterloo in southern Ontario. The School Health Action Planning and Evaluation System (SHAPES) has been adopted across Canada, helping to identify health trends.

Professor Manske said: "I am delighted to be invited to Wales to share our knowledge of how we've used good data on children's health in schools to help tackle issues including childhood obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking. The model we developed in southern Ontario, SHAPES, has been used in more than 3500 schools across Canada. SHAPES - the School Health Action, Planning and Evaluation System - collects health and education information from students and staff to create computer-generated, custom health profiles for schools, helping to identify trends and point the way to improving the success of school communities. Provinces, health regions, school boards and evaluators across Canada have all made use of SHAPES to guide program planning and help turn policy into action. I hope my work with the School Health Research Network can bring real benefits to wider society in Wales by improving the health of future generations."

Professor Manske's research led to the development of a 'Healthy School Planner' (HSP), a free, on-line tool that allows Canadian schools to assess the health of their school. SHRN aims to develop a similar approach in Wales, helping schools assess how well they are tackling a range of measures including physical exercise, smoking and obesity.

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