Finally, there’s good news on the child obesity front. A new study published online today suggests that inexpensive, community-based obesity intervention programs can work very well for kids who struggle with weight issues.
Researchers studied 155 overweight and obese children enrolled in a 6-month counseling program at their local YMCA. They lost, on average, 4 percent of their weight. Overall, 10 percent of the children lost their obese status.
That doesn’t seem like much, but it is considered a major success in an area where failure is more often the outcome. With all our recent efforts, rates of obesity have tripled in the past 30 years.
The UnitedHealth Group study, which will be published in the journal Pediatrics October issue, developed the program with the YMCA. The intent was to offer a “lifestyle intervention program” in a community-gathering place, as opposed to a hospital or school. It’s an easily replicated model with elements that can be applied at home too (see below).
The program, called “Join for Me,” offering a series of counseling sessions to both children and their parents on how to incorporate into their lives more balanced nutrition choices, increased activity, and tracking. It cost far less than the more intense and often effective medical programs to which obese children are sometimes referred but are out of reach for the vast majority of families.
“Our findings indicate that a scalable pediatric obesity intervention delivered in community-based facilities is feasible and results in clinically significant outcomes,” the authors conclude.
Interestingly, too, though the focus was on the children ages 6-17 who signed up, many of their parents also lost weight.
Deneen Vojta, a physician executive at UnitedHealth Group and one of the study’s principal investigators, said that what surprised her most was how many families applied to be part of the study, and how few left over the course of the six months.
“This points to a real unmet need in communities and a willingness by adults to make lifestyle changes on behalf of their children,” she wrote to me.
And the findings, she said, were “a huge step forward in validating the evidence regarding effective treatments. But we need to go further and make these treatment options cost-efficient and accessible.”
I asked her about the core principles of the counseling program, lessens that parents without access to one might be able to apply immediately.
“We will be working on other distribution designs and experiments help get this program into the hands of communities and families throughout the U.S.,” she said
In the meantime, here are her at-home basics:
a. Rethink your drink! Try to limit caloric drinks to 8 ounces per day. Drink more water.
b. Watch your portions — The easiest way is to eat on smaller plates.
c. Get plenty of sleep.
Does your child struggle with weight? Would you join a local “intervention” program?