Exploring primary school headteachers' perspectives on the barriers and facilitators of preventing childhood obesity

In January 2014, Emma Howard-Drake graduated with distinction from the Master of Public Health (MPH) Management and Leadership.  Alongside academic study, Emma has worked since 2011 as a public health specialist in a local authority.Both professionally and academically, Emma’s particular areas of interest and specialism include obesity, diet and physical activity in children and young people. In October 2014, Emma was awarded a Faculty Scholarship to undertake a mixed methods PhD in ScHARR, enabling her to build on the research undertaken during the MPH.  In August 2016 she is planning to join the East Midlands Public Health training programme.

Emma’s MPH dissertation focused on exploring the perspectives of primary school headteachers on the barriers and facilitators of preventing childhood obesity. Along with her co-author, Emma's research has been published in the Journal of Public Health.

Citation: Howard-Drake, E and Halliday, V (2015) Exploring primary school headteachers' perspectives on the barriers and facilitators of preventing childhood obesity (1): 44-52.doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdv021


Background: Headteachers of primary schools in England are a crucial partner for childhood obesity prevention. Understanding how this works in practice is limited by their views being underrepresented or missing from the evidence base. The aim of this study was to explore primary school headteachers' perspectives on childhood obesity and the perceived barriers and facilitators of prevention.

Methods: A qualitative study with a purposive sample of 14 primary school headteachers from the Yorkshire and Humber region of England was conducted. Semi-structured interviews were audio-taped, transcribed and analysed using an inductive thematic approach.

Results: An extensive range of barriers and facilitators emerged within four key themes; understanding childhood obesity, primary school setting, the role of parents and external partners. A lack of knowledge, awareness and skills to deal with the sensitivity and complexity of childhood obesity across all school stakeholders presents the most significant barrier to effective action.

Conclusions: Headteachers recognize primary schools are a crucial setting for childhood obesity prevention; however their school's often do not have the capability, capacity and confidence to make a meaningful and sustainable impact. To increase headteachers' ability and desire to prevent childhood obesity, schools require specialist and tailored training, resources and support from external partners such as public health teams and school nursing services.