Parents Essential in Weight Management of Children

Obesity has increasingly become a critical medical problem in children. High body weight and obesity are associated with numerous medical and significant psychological problems. This study out of Australia has shown that parent-only strategies, consisting of healthy lifestyle education and training in parenting skills, may be an effective tool to manage obesity in children. The six-month program showed that a relative weight loss of about 10 percent could be achieved in moderately obese, preadolescent children; demonstrating, also that the weight loss could be sustained for up to two years after the beginning of the program.

In developed countries, an alarming 20 to 30 percent of children are overweight and experience psychological, social, as well as health consequences. Effective strategies involving diet and activity behavior have been developed to manage obesity in children, and all require involvement of parents at some level. One study suggested programs that targeted parents only may be superior to those involving children as well. The authors of this study tried to find whether a parent-only approach that utilized interventions targeting parents and parenting styles alone, were effective in achieving weight loss. They also assessed the usefulness of parenting skills education in the same area.

•    A group of 169 prepubertal, overweight children aged from 5 to 9.9 years and their families were included in this study.
•    Two groups of parents were created. The first received training in creating a healthy lifestyle, and the second received education in parenting skills in addition to healthy lifestyle interventions.
•    Height, weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) were noted at the start of the study, and also at six monthly intervals for 24 months following the interventions.

•    At the time of recruitment, 78 percent of the children were obese and 22 percent were overweight.
•    In the first six months following the interventions, the body mass index was reduced by approximately 10 percent. This remained stable over the next 18 months.
•    The group receiving the parenting skills education achieved almost 4 percent greater reduction in BMI in the first six months of the study.

The study was limited to a short period because of ethical concerns. Therefore, whether the parent-only strategy is effective over long durations is not known. Also, interventions were only made at the entry level of the study. It is likely that repeated counseling may offer additional benefits. Future studies that focus on more intensive training in parenting skills over a long term may add to the existing data.

Parents can be trained to be effective agents of change where management of obesity in children is concerned. This study shows that interventions that target parents alone may be an effective, developmentally appropriate and non-stigmatizing strategy for achieving effective weight loss in obese children. The results point towards a sustainable, lower-cost approach to achieve significant weight loss, involving a total investment of the equivalent of 2.5 hours of therapy per family over two years.  For parents, it is heartening to note that apart from pharmaceutical treatment strategies, application of healthy lifestyle strategies and good parenting skills are of great benefit to children.

For More Information:
Parents and Parenting Skills Important for Weight Loss in Obese Children
Publication Journal: Pediatrics, January 2011
By Anthea M. Magarey, PhD; Rebecca A. Perry, PhD; Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.