LJMU GOALS weight management programme proves 90% effective in tackling childhood obesity

Currently nearly 30% of children aged 2–15 years in England are overweight or obese. Children who are obese face psychological and physical health complications in the short term and are more likely to become obese adults. But a university has been tackling this issue in Merseyside along with Liverpool City Council.

A Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) weight management programme to tackle childhood obesity concluded with over 90% of participants* in its final year losing weight and enjoying healthier lifestyles.

GOALS was developed by LJMU’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences in partnership with Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Primary Care Trust (PCT)

Additionally, a  recent article published by the LJMU Physical Activity Exchange has shown positive results for the GOALS weight management programme with children who completed it from 2006 – 2009, losing weight and improving their physical activity and eating habits. 

Over the years it ran in Liverpool, GOALS helped over 400 families with overweight children make changes to their physical activity and eating habits. The research study describes the complexities of designing and embedding a programme for children who are overweight, and shows a little bit of patience pays off in the long-run.  

Project manager and principal researcher, LJMU’s Dr Paula Watson, stated:

“Our results improved year-on-year as our staff grew in knowledge and experience.  By the time GOALS finished in 2013, over 90% of the children who completed the programme were showing improved weight status.”

Annette James, Head of Children’s Health Improvement at Liverpool City Council, said:

  “Obesity is a serious public health issue and maintaining a healthy weight in childhood and adolescence is absolutely key to long term good health.  This work carried out with local children and their parents was fun and friendly and was done in such a way as to bring long term changes to behaviour and health.   The GOALS programme was developed as a partnership and made a real difference to the children and families involved; it’s good to see those benefits being maintained over time.”

Liverpool City Council, Public Health team have recently commissioned the Healthy Families Programme which builds on learning from the GOALS programme. (information http://www.liverpoolcommunityhealth.nhs.uk/health-services/healthy-families.htm ). 

Dr Watson described how GOALS also helped children overcome issues of poor self-esteem and body image, which affect so many children who are overweight.

“The study results showed positive improvements to children’s confidence, and the children who lost the most weight during GOALS had the greatest improvements in self-esteem a year later.”   

Tracy Gow attended GOALS with her son Josh, then nine, between October 2007 and March 2008 and says the programme had a huge impact on their lives:

“After enduring bullies throughout his childhood about his weight, we came to GOALS and he turned his life around.”

Josh, now 17, is currently studying for his A-levels at Myerscough College in Preston, where Rugby is a huge part of his college life.  Telling us how Josh currently plays rugby for Lancashire County and hopes one day to represent his country, his mum said: 

“I am amazed that this once overweight little boy of mine who had no confidence at all has grown into this wonderful fit young man who is dedicated to playing Rugby and keeping fit.  Coming from a kid who loathed exercise, how amazing!” 

GOALS was a family-based programme that recognised the importance of everyone in the family becoming more physically active and eating healthily.  Seeing Josh do so well has spurred Tracy on to take up running and lose weight herself, saying: 

“My neighbours say that we are the incredible shrinking family.  I have gone from a size 22 to a size 12 that I hadn’t been in for 17 years!! With Josh looking so brilliant it totally spurs me on.”

Tracy puts their family’s changes down to what they learned at GOALS seven years ago, showing that small gradual changes really can make a big difference in the long-run. 

“It turned our lives around in such a huge way and I know those changes would probably never had been made only for GOALS. Josh always asks 'Do you think GOALS would be made up with me?' I tell him that like the rest of his family, his GOALS family would be so very proud.”

LJMU’s School of Sport and Exercise Science is celebrating 40 successful years since the beginnings of Sport Science. LJMU, formerly Liverpool Polytechnic, was the first institution in the world to host a single honours programme in Sport Science. Join the celebrations for ‘40 Years of Sport Science’ at www.ljmu.ac.uk/sport40/ Twitter: @LJMUSportSci #sportsci40

If you were involved in the GOALS programme (either as a child, a parent or a health practitioner) and would like to tell us how the programme helped you please contact: Paula Watson, p.m.watson@ljmu.ac.uk / 0151 231 4182

You can read the full research article at:  http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/2/e006519.full

*90% rate based on 2013 results

For interviews with Dr Paula Watson or participant’s parent Tracy Gow please contact the LJMU Press Office on 0151 231 3004 or via press@ljmu.ac.uk

Obesity figures for children in England taken from Craig R, Mindell J, eds.

Health survey for England 2012: health, social care and lifestyles. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2013.

About Us

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) has over 180 years’ experience educating students in a wide range of disciplines, spanning the arts, humanities, education, health, science and technology and we offer a diverse range of undergraduate degrees, postgraduate taught programmes and research opportunities. Over 95% of research submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 was of international quality or higher, with more than 70% of impact activity rated internationally excellent or world-leading. We are one of the top performing new universities in the UK for Architecture and Built Environment, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, General Engineering, Physics and Sports-Related Studies. LJMU also continues to be one of the UK’s leading higher education institutions for our interaction with business and the community. We are currently ranked in the top 40 UK universities for staff and graduate start-up companies and in the top 20 for spin-off companies.