TUESDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- It's hard to help
overweight children lose weight, and keeping it off over the
long-term is even tougher. But obese children whose parents took
classes on the importance of healthy eating and exercise lost
weight and kept it off for the next two years, according to a new
Researchers said the study shows that targeting parents --
rather than the children -- can help stave off weight gain in
children aged 5 to 9.
"We believe it makes developmental sense to involve only parents," said lead study author Anthea Magarey, a senior research associate of nutrition and dietetics, at Flinders University School of Medicine in Adelaide, Australia, where the study took place. "It takes the stigma away from the child and supports a whole family approach."
The study findings were released online in advance of
publication in the February issue of
For young children, parents play a huge role in their eating and
exercise habits, Magarey explained. The kids are still spending
most of their time at home and eating most meals at home. Parents
buy and prepare food, and decide what and how much kids can eat.
They are responsible for providing opportunities for children to be
active and can set rules for TV and video game use.
The researchers enrolled mostly mothers of 169 moderately obese
or overweight children aged 5 to 9 years in a six-month "healthy
lifestyle" course, in which parents were taught about portion size
and reading nutrition labels, being a good role model for their
children and setting limits. (Half of the parents also took a
parenting course, although the study authors found little
difference between the two groups).
At the end of six months, children's body mass index (a
measurement that takes into account weight and height) dropped an
average of 10 percent, as did their waist circumference. Eighteen
months later, the children had kept the weight off, the
In the United States, about 17 percent of children and
adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese, a number that has been
increasing since the 1970s, according to the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
About 24 percent of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 are overweight,
meaning they have a BMI in the 85th percentile or above for their
height and age. That number rises to 33 percent among children aged
6 to 11, according to the CDC.
After the healthy lifestyle sessions, parents said they felt
more comfortable saying "no" to their children's demands, setting
limits on the type of food the children could eat, limiting the
amount of time they spent watching TV or playing video games, and
establishing consequences for breaking the rules.
Parents assessed their own current eating patterns and set their
own goals for change, such as limiting TV to no more than two hours
a day, doing more active family activities and making small dietary
changes that can go a long way, such as eating more fruit and
vegetables, using reduced-fat dairy products and drinking fewer
sweetened beverages such as sodas.
Kathy Kolasa, a professor of nutrition services and patient
education at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., said she
does not believe children have to be excluded from obesity
prevention programs because of the risk of stigmatizing them.
But making sure parents know about nutrition, portion size and
how to make sure their children are getting enough physical
activity is critical.
"In my experience, there are plenty of parents who tell me they know what to feed their kids and that they are eating healthy," Kolasa said. "When we analyze their diet, they are surprised that they are not following or providing age-appropriate portions and healthy foods for their kids."
As for the parents included in the study, their weight did not
change over the two years.
The Children's Nutrition Research Center has more on
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