Effects of the Informed Health Choices primary school intervention on the ability of children in Uganda to assess the reliability of claims about treatment effects : A cluster-randomised controlled trial
Oxman, Andrew D.
Kristoffersen, Doris Tove
Sewankambo, Nelson K
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Background: Claims about what improves or harms our health are ubiquitous. People need to be able to assess the reliability of these claims. We aimed to evaluate an intervention designed to teach primary school children to assess claims about the effects of treatments (ie, any action intended to maintain or improve health). Methods: In this cluster-randomised controlled trial, we included primary schools in the central region of Uganda that taught year-5 children (aged 10–12 years). We excluded international schools, special needs schools for children with auditory and visual impairments, schools that had participated in user-testing and piloting of the resources, infant and nursery schools, adult education schools, and schools that were difficult for us to access in terms of travel time. We randomly allocated a representative sample of eligible schools to either an intervention or control group. Intervention schools received the Informed Health Choices primary school resources (textbooks, exercise books, and a teachers’ guide). Teachers attended a 2-day introductory workshop and gave nine 80 min lessons during one school term. The lessons addressed 12 concepts essential to assessing claims about treatment effects and making informed health choices. We did not intervene in the control schools. The primary outcome, measured at the end of the school term, was the mean score on a test with two multiple-choice questions for each of the 12 concepts and the proportion of children with passing scores on the same test. This trial is registered with the Pan African Clinical Trial Registry, number PACTR201606001679337. Findings: Between April 11, 2016, and June 8, 2016, 2960 schools were assessed for eligibility; 2029 were eligible, and a random sample of 170 were invited to recruitment meetings. After recruitment meetings, 120 eligible schools consented and were randomly assigned to either the intervention group (n=60, 76 teachers and 6383 children) or control group (n=60, 67 teachers and 4430 children). The mean score in the multiple-choice test for the intervention schools was 62•4% (SD 18•8) compared with 43•1% (15•2) for the control schools (adjusted mean difference 20•0%, 95% CI 17•3–22•7; p<0•00001). In the intervention schools, 3967 (69%) of 5753 children achieved a predetermined passing score (≥13 of 24 correct answers) compared with 1186 (27%) of 4430 children in the control schools (adjusted difference 50%, 95% CI 44–55). The intervention was effective for children with different levels of reading skills, but was more effective for children with better reading skills. Interpretation: The use of the Informed Health Choices primary school learning resources, after an introductory workshop for the teachers, led to a large improvement in the ability of children to assess claims about the effects of treatments. The results show that it is possible to teach primary school children to think critically in schools with large student to teacher ratios and few resources. Future studies should address how to scale up use of the resources, long-term effects, including effects on actual health choices, transferability to other countries, and how to build on this programme with additional primary and secondary school learning resources.