School-Based Adolescent Obesity Prevention Programming: Perceptions of School Personnel in Southern Appalachia

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Objectives: Coordinated School Health (CSH) is a systematic approach to improving the health and well-being of school-age children. It is recommended for its potential to promote healthy weight in adolescents through strategic programming. Resources and programming for adolescent obesity prevention varies among schools, thereby limiting the intended benefits of CSH. The purpose of this study was to understand gaps in schools approaches to healthy weight promotion and support for overweight/obese students. We evaluated perceptions of adolescent obesity and environmental factors and programs facilitating healthy weight in high schools in Appalachian Tennessee. Methods: In 2012, 17 key school personnel from 5 randomly selected high schools were interviewed. Questions addressed their perceptions of adolescent obesity, school-based physical activity and nutrition programming, and support available to overweight/obese students. Thematic analysis was conducted to identify emerging themes. Results: Participants consistently identified adolescent obesity and/ or associated risk factors as major health problems within their schools. Barriers to physical activity and healthful eating were identified at multiple levels. Because of the sensitivity surrounding overweight/obesity, no particular programs or curricula targeted overweight/obese adolescents specifically, but they were available to all students. Support is not explicitly available; therefore, overweight/ obese students must seek out these resources. Conclusions: Findings suggest that although school personnel are concerned about the impact of adolescent obesity on health outcomes, there is wide variation across schools on the types and quality of programming available to address the issue. Results can be used to encourage school-based strengths and identify gaps in the CSH infrastructure in school systems.