Posted by: Tony Carson | 2 October, 2007

Obesity, bullying and the buddy system

Finding an effective way to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity in North America has stumped doctors, educators and parents for years. But a pilot study at West Sechelt – led by a team of B.C. researchers and published this week in the prestigious journal Pediatrics – has showed unusual success in improving children’s health. See the full article here: He ain’t heavy, he’s my buddy:

The program involved students in Grades 4 to 7 teaching younger “buddies” the importance of good nutrition, exercise and self-esteem. Within one school year, researchers from BC Children’s Hospital found that students had made major strides in their health knowledge – and gained less weight than a control group from another school.

Fuelled by West Sechelt’s success, the Healthy Buddies program has spread to dozens of schools across British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Last month, the World Health Organization took notice and is taking steps to implement the program across the Arabic-speaking world.

It’s a success story the original participants couldn’t have dreamed of in 2002, when it began with a frustrated doctor, an elementary school and a question: Can kids teaching kids have a measurable impact on their health?

“I certainly couldn’t have imagined this,” said Valerie Ryden, a physical education teacher who helped design and implement Healthy Buddies. “But at the same time, we realized that something really special was happening.”

The inspiration for the program came from Suzanne Stock, an endocrinologist at BC Children’s Hospital. Frustrated by the high number of obese children referred to her clinic, she wondered if there was a way to combat the problem through education.

Dr. Stock teamed up with Ms. Ryden, who was hired for her expertise in educational programming. To design their program, they decided to try something that has been gaining recognition among educators in recent years for its effectiveness: peer teaching. “We thought maybe if the older kids partner with the younger kids, maybe we’d have an impact,” said Jean-Pierre Chanoine, a pediatric endocrinologist and researcher involved in the study. “But would it work? We didn’t know.”

For their guinea pig, the researchers turned to Sechelt, a town of about 8,500 on the B.C. coast. The town’s school superintendent had shown interest in finding ways to promote healthy living among students. West Sechelt Elementary was selected for its manageable number of classes. Another school, located about 30 minutes away, would act as a control group.

Beginning in September, 2002, West Sechelt students in Grades 4 through 7 were taught lessons in nutrition, and the importance of exercise and positive self-esteem.

Then, for two or three hours a week, the students were paired up with students in kindergarten to Grade 3 and, with Ms. Ryden acting as a facilitator, they passed on those lessons to their younger buddies. Once a week, the pairs would head to the playground to do organized physical activities.

As the year went on, school faculty members began to realize that they were on to something.

“The [older buddies] would talk to me like we were in the staff room,” Ms. Ryden recalls. “They would say, ‘It went really well today, she’s really catching on.’ ”

Researchers and teachers also began noticing changes that none of them had expected. The program seemed to be putting a dent in a problem that can be just as detrimental to a child as obesity, and just as difficult to fix: bullying.



  1. Check out this article at Junkfood Science. It’s long and it’s worth the read. There is a lot of information on the Junkfood Science site on the issue of childhood obesity…

  2. […] Tony Carson wrote a fantastic post today on “Obesity, bullying and the buddy system”Here’s ONLY a quick extractFinding an effective way to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity in North America has stumped doctors, educators and parents for years. But a pilot study at West Sechelt – led by a team of BC researchers and published this week in … […]

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