ACTIVITAL – Cuenca, Ecuador

Key Insights

  • Whole school approach to food literacy
  • Research on impact of intervention versus control
  • Combating child overweight and obesity


Adoption of high-energy style eating habits in Ecuador has led to rising rates of overweight and obesity, including among adolescents. From 2009, a three-year comprehensive food education programme ran in ten schools in the city of Cuenca, involving children aged 11 to 16, their parents, teachers, and catering professionals. The ACTIVITAL programme was considered a success as the children in the intervention schools decreased their added sugar and processed food intake over the three years, and waist circumference and blood pressure also reduced among all socioeconomic groups.


This case study version is from the Menu of Actions (2019). Suggested citation: Halliday, J., Platenkamp, L., Nicolarea, Y. (2019) A menu of actions to shape urban food systems for improved nutrition, GAIN, MUFPP and RUAF.

Children playing in Cuenca (Ecuador), Shutterstock/Ireneuke

The action and its aims

The ACTIVITAL programme in 10 of Cuenca’s public schools involved teachers using an interactive toolkit in classrooms to educate children aged 11 to 16 on healthy eating and physical activity, combined with workshops for parents and school shop staff, and social events. In another 10 schools the normal curriculum was followed, to allow comparison on food habits and health parameters. The aim was to test the value of a comprehensive approach involving children, parents, and teaching and catering professionals for education and awareness-raising.

When it was introduced

The programme was introduced in 2009 and ran for three years.

Why it was needed

A school-based approach was adopted to curb rising obesity rates in Ecuador, due to adoption of Western-style diets and lack of physical exercise.

Who initiated it, who is involved

The programme was initiated by researchers from Cuenca University, in partnership with Ghent University in Belgium. It relied on teacher participation, which was voluntary since ACTIVITAL was not part of the curriculum.

Impacts to date

As a result of the programme, children in the intervention schools decreased their added sugar and processed snack food intakes, as well as their waist circumference and blood pressure across all socioeconomic groups. The same impacts were not seen in the 10 schools with no intervention.

More information: A similar action is the Giocampus programme in Parma (Italy), which is a public-private alliance to address child obesity through nutritional and physical education in schools.

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