Analysis of a healthy eating and activity programme first tested in Waikato primary schools shows the project is saving taxpayer money and improving children's lives.
The obesity research findings show Project Energize will improve the health and quality of life of the 44,000 children involved.
The data, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed the prevalence of obesity among all children involved was 15 per cent less than for Waikato children not in the programme in 2004 and 2006.
Children participating in Project Energize could run 550m 10 per cent faster than children from another region and their body mass index was reduced by 3 per cent.
The project, where a team of 27 "energizers" train school teachers and children in healthy eating and activities across Waikato primary schools, began in 2004. The annual $2 million programme is funded by Waikato District Health Board and implemented by Sport Waikato.
Its success has seen the programme introduced to more schools in Franklin and Northland, and the Ministry of Health has committed $1.1 million to extend it to 100 preschools and 4000 more Waikato children. It's being piloted in Cork, Ireland and there's been interest from Australia.
AUT Professor Elaine Rush, the lead researcher, said Project Energize was demonstrably improving the lives of Waikato children, their families, their teachers and the nutrition and physical activity environment of the school.
"These effects are intergenerational so this will benefit the next generation as well. It is for our children's children," Professor Rush said. "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."
The programme cost around $45 a child, "less than the cost of one visit to a doctor".