Research links family's role in reducing childhood obesity

January 16, 2013

Despite recent data showing that childhood obesity in the U.S. has begun to drop, overweight and obese kids and teens remain a personal and public health hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese—that's roughly 12.5 million kids and teens.

"The data indicate that children with obesity just don't have as good a quality of life," said Ric Steele, professor of psychology and applied at the University of Kansas. "Risk for type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing. The CDC predicts that within 20 years half of America will have . We can think about societal costs represented in this figure—that's a monumental investment in an essentially preventable illness." 

Steele says that there are individual costs as well: "At the individual level, children and adolescents with obesity may not feel as well.  They may not sleep as well. And they may actually experience some psychosocial problems like teasing, victimization, — and just generally don't feel as good as they could feel if they were in a healthier condition."

For such children and teens, Steele has compared the effectiveness of two intervention programs that depend upon the child or teen's entire family for support. The KU researcher said that engaging the family is critical for developing healthier eating and that lead to a reduction in weight in children and teens.

"Kids don't do shopping for themselves usually," Steele said. "For kids, eating decisions and exercise decisions are based in part on what's considered normal. So for me, as the dad, to say, 'Go outside and play,' if I'm not willing to be active, too—that sends a mixed message that doesn't really work for the kids. We think about a whole family approach. We all want to be healthy. So regardless if I'm personally overweight or not, I need to live a lifestyle that's healthy and will encourage a for all of the members of my family."

In a paper published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Steele compared Positively Fit, a nutrition, exercise and behavior modification program for children and their families, which featured 90-minute counseling sessions and spanned 10 weeks, with a brief family intervention consisting of three hourlong visits with a dietitian.

"Both of the groups ended up losing weight from pre-intervention to post-intervention and at one year followup," said Steele. "That's particularly true for the pre-adolescents."

Steele used zBMI (age- and sex- standardized body mass index) for the primary outcome of the study. At the one-year followup, 41 percent of the participants in the Positively Fit program saw reductions greater than 0.18 in zBMI. Meantime, 38 percent of the participants in the brief family intervention also met this measure.

"Even though weight loss didn't differ very much between the two groups, self-reported quality of life improved dramatically for the kids in the Positively Fit program," said Steele. "We assume that's because of some of the topics covered in the Positively Fit group sessions. We talk about eating out, we talk about being around peers who may or may not be overweight, and we talk about victimization and teasing. We deal with a lot of real-world problems in Positively Fit that the other intervention just doesn't deal with. So it makes sense that their quality of life would have improved due to the intervention."

One group that didn't see large changes to zBMI was adolescents.

"Parents have so much more influence over the younger kids," Steele said. "Your 14-year-old or 15-year-old? Their job in a sense is to break away and be more independent. So it may take a different kind of intervention for those adolescents who are more autonomous and increasing in their autonomy over time."  Steele's current work is investigating ways to make the intervention even more effective for families.

Explore further: Social media may help fight childhood obesity

Related Stories

Social media may help fight childhood obesity

December 3, 2012
Social media may be an effective tool to help children overcome obesity, according to a new American Heart Association scientific statement.

Family meals remain important through teen years, expert says

July 12, 2011
As children become teenagers, it may be more challenging to regularly include them in family meals, but doing so is key to heading off such problems as eating disorders, obesity, and inadequate nutrition in adolescence, said ...

Older overweight children consume fewer calories than their healthy weight peers

September 10, 2012
A new study by University of North Carolina School of Medicine pediatrics researchers finds a surprising difference in the eating habits of overweight children between ages 9 and 17 years compared to those younger than 9.

Parents talking to their teens about being overweight

November 8, 2012
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 28% of adolescents are overweight. This means that about 1 in every 5 parents is thinking about how to discuss this with their child. Creating a healthful ...

Recommended for you

Are sugary drink interventions changing people's behaviour?

July 19, 2017
An evaluation of efforts designed to reduce how many sugary drinks we consume shows some success in changing younger people's habits but warns they cannot be the only way to cut consumption.

Young adult obesity: A neglected, yet essential focus to reverse the obesity epidemic

July 18, 2017
The overall burden of the U.S. obesity epidemic continues to require new thinking. Prevention of obesity in young adults, while largely ignored as a target for prevention and study, will be critical to reversing the epidemic, ...

Weight gain from early to middle adulthood may increase risk of major chronic diseases

July 18, 2017
Cumulative weight gain over the course of early and middle adulthood may increase health risks later in life, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that, compared ...

Study finds children carry implicit bias towards peers who are overweight

June 23, 2017
Even children as young as 9 years old can carry a prejudice against their peers who are overweight, according to a new study led by Duke Health researchers. They might not even realize they feel this way.

Mother's obesity boosts risk for major birth defects: study

June 15, 2017
Children of obese women are more likely to be afflicted by major birth defects, including malformations of the heart and genitals, according to a study published on Thursday.

New study finds more than 2 billion people overweight or obese

June 12, 2017
Globally, more than 2 billion children and adults suffer from health problems related to being overweight or obese, and an increasing percentage of people die from these health conditions, according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.