Childhood Obesity: Family Plan Helps
Overweight Children May Benefit When Families Learn Together About Weight Control
June 25, 2007 -- Childhood obesity may be no match for families that work
together on weight control, a new study shows.
The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical
Association, isn't about putting overweight children on a restrictive
Instead, it's about building a healthy lifestyle for parents and kids
"The parents were key. Parents were the major agent of change in the
home," Yale University researcher Mary Savoye, RD, CD-N, CDE, told
Those changes, detailed in Savoye's study, took effort. But they paid off by
helping overweight kids lose extra body fat, lower their risk of developing
type 2 diabetes, and learn healthy lifestyle habits.
"The secret is it's an educational process," Savoye says. "My
guess is they will continue to do well because now they can make informed
decisions about better food choices."
Americans of all ages, including children, are increasingly becoming
overweight. Extra pounds make health problems, including diabetes and high
blood pressure, more likely.
"Since an overweight child has a high probability of becoming an
overweight adult, the grave concerns for the long-term health of obese children
are well justified," Savoye's team writes.
Savoye and colleagues studied 209 overweight children aged 8 to 16 in
inner-city New Haven, Conn.
First, the kids got a thorough checkup that included measuring their height,
weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Next, the researchers randomly split
the kids into two groups.
One group of kids was assigned to participate -- with a parent or caregiver
-- in an intensive lifestyle program called Bright Bodies for one year.
The other group of children saw a doctor, dietitian, and social worker for
checkups every six months and
received counseling on nutrition and exercise.
Family Weight Control
Children and their caregivers in the Bright Bodies group attended sessions
twice weekly for the first six months and twice monthly for the second six
In the sessions, they learned about nutrition, goal setting, self-awareness,
and coping skills. The kids also got supervised group exercise sessions, which
focused on making fitness fun.
Exercise included dancing, jumping rope, and playing basketball and flag
Their parents were taught how to make their home environment supportive of
weight control. For instance, they learned not to single out the overweight
child, but to make weight control a family project.
"You'd be surprised how many parents think it's OK to sit on the sofa
with a bag of chips, and the child has to be having diet Jell-0, for
example," Savoye says. "We want to break that separation, and the
parents really enjoy that piece of it."
Effort Pays Off
Sixty percent of the kids completed six months of the study and 53% finished
the yearlong study.
Children are growing, so it's normal for them to gain some weight. That's
why the researchers focused on the children's BMI (body mass index), which
relates height to weight.