Open Access Open Badges Research article

Differences in school environment, school policy and actions regarding overweight prevention between Dutch schools. A nationwide survey

Salome Scholtens1, Lideke Middelbeek1, Suzanne I Rutz2, Goof Buijs3 and Wanda JE Bemelmans1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Prevention and Health Services Research, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), P.O. Box 1, 3720 BA, Bilthoven, The Netherlands

2 The Netherlands Health Care Inspectorate, P.O. Box 20584, 1001 NN, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 The Netherlands Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NIGZ), P.O. Box 500, 3440 AM, Woerden, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-42

Published: 28 January 2010



Schools are regarded as an important setting for the prevention of overweight. This study presents a nationally representative picture of the obesogenity of the school environment, the awareness of schools regarding overweight, and actions taken by the schools aiming at overweight prevention. In addition, differences between school levels were studied.


In 2006-2007, questionnaires were sent to all Dutch secondary schools (age group 12-18 years). Prevalences of the outcome variables were calculated for the schools in total and by school level. The association between school level and outcome variables were analysed by a log linear regression.


Unhealthy foods and drinks are widely available at secondary schools. One third of the schools indicated that overweight has increased among students and half of the schools agreed that schools were (co)responsible for the prevention of overweight. Only 3% of the schools have a policy on overweight prevention. Small differences were observed between vocational education schools and higher education schools. The presence of vending machines did not differ by school level, but at vocational education schools, the content of the vending machines was less healthy.


This study describes the current situation at schools which is essential for the development and evaluation of future overweight prevention policies and interventions. In general, secondary schools are not actively involved in overweight prevention and the nutritional environment at most schools could be improved. The small differences between school levels do not give reason for a differential approach for a certain school level for overweight prevention.