WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative: School Nutrition Environment and Body Mass Index in Primary Schools

T.M.A. Wijnhoven, J.M.A. van Raaij, A. Sjöberg, N. Eldin, A. Yngve, M. Kunesova, G. Stare, A.I. Rito, V. Duleva, M. Hassapidou, E. Martos, I. Pudule, A. Petrauskiene, V. Farrugia Sant Angelo, R. Hovengen, J. Breda

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30 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Schools are important settings for the promotion of a healthy diet and sufficient physical activity and thus overweight prevention. Objective: To assess differences in school nutrition environment and body mass index (BMI) in primary schools between and within 12 European countries. Methods: Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) were used (1831 and 2045 schools in 2007/2008 and 2009/2010, respectively). School personnel provided information on 18 school environmental characteristics on nutrition and physical activity. A school nutrition environment score was calculated using five nutrition-related characteristics whereby higher scores correspond to higher support for a healthy school nutrition environment. Trained field workers measured children’s weight and height; BMI-for-age (BMI/A) Z-scores were computed using the 2007 WHO growth reference and, for each school, the mean of the children’s BMI/A Z-scores was calculated. Results: Large between-country differences were found in the availability of food items on the premises (e.g., fresh fruit could be obtained in 12%-95% of schools) and school nutrition environment scores (range: 0.30-0.93). Low-score countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania) graded less than three characteristics as supportive. High-score (=0.70) countries were Ireland, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. The combined absence of cold drinks containing sugar, sweet snacks and salted snacks were more observed in high-score countries than in low-score countries. Largest within-country school nutrition environment scores were found in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania. All country-level BMI/A Z-scores were positive (range: 0.20-1.02), indicating higher BMI values than the 2007 WHO growth reference. With the exception of Norway and Sweden, a country-specific association between the school nutrition environment score and the school BMI/A Z-score was not observed. Conclusions: Some European countries have implemented more school policies that are supportive to a healthy nutrition environment than others. However, most countries with low school nutrition environment scores also host schools with supportive school environment policies, suggesting that a uniform school policy to tackle the “unhealthy” school nutrition environment has not been implemented at the same level throughout a country and may underline the need for harmonized school policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11261-11285
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • food environment
  • secondary-schools
  • weight status
  • interventions
  • associations
  • children
  • policy
  • consumption
  • prevention
  • behaviors


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