We really can have an impact on childhood obesity. In a recent intensive obesity program, kids were able to slim down and maintain a healthier weight a year after it ended.
The trick is to make sure the effect lasts beyond the tenure of the program itself. Once they are back in their environment and free of accountability ... will they continue to live a healthy life?
A second issue is that obese kids from mixed ethnic and low-income backgrounds are some of the hardest demographics to reach and effect.
How bad is it?
Almost 20 percent of kids and adolescents in the U.S. are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- a number that has tripled over the past 30 years. Compared to their slimmer peers, obese youth are more likely to turn into obese adults, setting them up for an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
In the current study, researchers led by Mary Savoye of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, signed up about 200 kids aged 8 to 16 for one of two programs. The first was an intensive, family-based obesity program. For six months, kids participated in aerobic exercise sessions twice a week and had classes in nutrition and healthy behavior once a week. For the next six months after that, sessions went down to twice a month. Parents also got coaching on health and nutrition. In the other group, kids had counseling appointments, led by social workers, doctors and dieticians, once every six months.
At several points, the researchers measured everyone's height, weight and blood pressure, checked their cholesterol, and looked for signs of diabetes: after six months of the intensive program, after 12 months, and finally one year after the program had ended.
Decidedly mixed results
1. Six months into the intensive program, kids had lost an average of about 5 pounds according to the results, which are published in the journal Pediatrics.
2. After 12 months, they had gained about 1 pound.
3. Another year after the intensive program had ended, they were up 13 pounds from the start of the study. However, their BMI had still dropped because they were growing at the same time.
In contrast, kids in the twice-a-year counseling group gained 10 pounds in the first six months on average, 18 pounds after a year, and 26 pounds after two years -- all equaling increases in BMI from the start of the study.
One of the most important interventions for kids is called "the parent". Unlike obesity programs, parents and caregivers are able to provide continual support, make food decisions, and be a strong role model for healthy eating behaviors.
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