Children, Youth and Environments.
Vol 16, No.2 (2006)
ISSN 1546-2250

“Shape Up”: A School-Community Approach to Influencing Healthy and Balanced Child Development

P.A.U. Education

What is Shape Up?

Shape Up is an exceptional project that bridges the gap between health prevention and health promotion. It addresses childhood obesity by focusing on determinants of health beyond individual behavior and lifestyles.

The Shape Up methodological approach builds on the experience and research from, among others, the European Network of Health Promoting Schools, and particularly from the international educational project, “Young Minds—Exploring Links between Youth, Health and Culture.” The approach builds on often-neglected potentials for collaboration between schools and local communities, involving genuine children’s participation and international collaboration.

Shape Up was set in motion in 2004 when 26 cities from 25 European Union member states were approached and committed resources to a unique cooperative project to counteract child obesity and influence the determinants of healthy and balanced child development. Children aged 4 to 16 years from 100 schools participate in the project. In 2005, the proposal was selected for funding by the European Commission (DG SANCO). Shape Up relies on an innovative public-private partnership based on strict ethical rules.

Example of Children’s Actions and Changes

The Shape Up approach differs from traditional preventative or health-promoting interventions that often focus exclusively on modifying children’s behavior. Shape Up suggests that it is of vital importance to develop children’s capacity to critically explore and improve health-related conditions and practices at different levels: family, school and community.

Children collaborate with adults to explore issues of health, diet and physical exercise and take action to initiate real-life changes at their school and in their local community. Changes might include, for example, a cycling path to school, improvements to the physical environment of the school cafeteria, improvement of the quality of the school meals, or better play and exercise facilities at the local level. The specific changes will always depend on needs identified by or with children in the local setting and will be sustained after the end of the project.

Who Will Support Children at the Local Level?

Shape Up staff is at work in each city. City officials, facilitators and other stakeholders have formed local Shape Up promotion groups, with the task of providing opportunities and support for children and youth, and providing logistic and strategic support to make sure that children’s action ideas are taken seriously and followed through at the community level.


  • Development of culture-sensitive and effective strategies to improve health among young people in Europe that will be disseminated to schools and communities throughout Europe
  • Establishment of a network involving research institutions, schools, communities and representatives from the private sector
  • Creation of an innovative research-based methodological guidebook and training materials that have been published and translated into 20 European languages
  • Creation of other training materials to be used at the local level
  • Development of a web-based portal (, providing a common platform for communication, cooperation and joint projects across the schools and the cities
  • Institution of longer-term outcomes related to policy, education, health, democracy and sustainability in local communities in Europe to improve health among young people

Supporting Documents

Interested readers can download the Shape Up guidebook, training and evaluation materials, booklets and other documents about the project at  Additionally, for a more complete overview of the In-Shape Schools program of P.A.U. Education, please see the Field Report previously published in issue 15(1) of CYE: “‘La Scuola in Forma’: The In-Shape School—An Educational Project on Childhood Obesity.”