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Waikato children Energized to have healthier lives

11 October 2013

Waikato children Energized to have healthier lives – spend $45/child/year now and gain quality and quantity of life

Analysis from AUT University has confirmed a healthy eating and activity programme now in all Waikato primary schools is saving taxpayers money as well as improving lives.

A paper published in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, confirms Project Energize will help Waikato children live longer and healthier lives because of their healthier lifestyles and weight. The measure of improvement of life, the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) has an associated health care cost-between $20,000 and $30,000 for every QALY gained for the population. QALY is a measure of time that is defined as ‘quality life’.

The data for the cost-effective analysis was taken from a recently published paper in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition. That paper indicated that the prevalence of obesity and overweight among all children was 15% less than for Waikato children not in the programme measured in 2004 and 2006. Also children involved in Project Energize could run 550m (physical fitness) 10% faster than children from another region.

The success of Project Energize has led to the programme being rolled out to clusters of schools in Franklin and Northland as well as the Ministry of Health recently announcing recently $1.1million of funding for it to be expanded to over 100 pre-schools and 4000 children in the Waikato.

Project Energize is funded by the Waikato District Health Board and is run by Sport Waikato through a team of 27 ‘Energizers’. Each Energizer works with 8 to 12 primary schools and teachers to support physical activity and healthier eating activities.

The Energizers work closely with the teachers taking ”Huff and Puff” games and activities that get all the children moving, demonstrations of why water and milk are the best drinks and how to make a healthy cheap sandwich.

Lead researcher, AUT’s Professor Elaine Rush, says Project Energize is going from strength to strength and demonstrably improving the lives of Waikato children, their families, their teachers and the nutrition and physical activity environment of the school.

“While obviously there is an initial cost to run Project Energize, it saves money long-term by reducing the healthcare budget. Waikato DHB should be congratulated for its forethought in improving the health of people in this part of the country,” she says.

Currently Waikato DHB allocate just under $2million annually for the project but at less than $45 per child it is good value for money says Professor Rush. This is less than the cost of one visit to a doctor.

“We know the investment we make into Project Energize is one we will get great returns on for many years to come in the form of healthier adults who will cost the health sector less,” said Waikato DHB chief executive Craig Climo.

“The positive effect of the work Project Energize does with these children is far reaching. What they learn at school, they pass on at home. Healthy lifestyles benefit families mentally as well as physically,” he says.

Professor Rush says children are growing and are meant to get bigger. “Growing too fast, not eating the best foods and not being able to run fast has flow-on adverse health implications for the rest of the child’s life.

“These effects are intergenerational so this will benefit the next generation as well. It is for our children’s children,” she says.


Researchers looked at the projected lifetime cost of the treatment of 14 obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and chronic heart failure which are associated with too rapid growth in childhood.

That figure was extrapolated for a child’s lifetime, multiplied by the number of fewer overweight children in order to determine the long term return on investment in Project Energize for the Waikato DHB.

The programme is delivered to all 44,000 primary aged children in the Waikato children, 36% of whom are Māori. This is 10% of the New Zealand primary school population and 15% of the New Zealand primary school population who are Māori.

Project Energize was initiated in 2004 with an objective of improving the health and wellbeing of children in the Waikato. An on line publication in June 2013 of the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition confirms that in 2011 Waikato children have a healthier body weight for age and can run faster than children measured 5 to 10 years earlier The analysis took into consideration ethnic group school and school socio-economic status, sex and age.

This evaluation involved 5110 children from 192 schools with more than one third of the children and families involved in the programme and evaluation being Māori.

See more at:


Measurements from over 5000 Energized children in 2011 published in British Journal of Nutrition indicates….

· The prevalence of obesity and overweight among all children at least 15% less than for ‘unEnergized’ Waikato children measured in 2004 and 2006.

· Weight for height (BMI) was reduced by more than 3%

· The children could run 550m (physical fitness) 10% faster than children from another region.

Cost analysis from the Obesity Research and Clinical Practice

Younger children Incremental cost/QALY

All children $30,438

Maori only $28,241

Older children

All children $24,690

Maori only $22,151


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