Simplifying information aids fight against childhood obesity, study finds

October 5, 2017, University of Virginia Health System

Providing simplified health information designed for parents with low health literacy helps all families in childhood obesity treatment programs regardless of their ability to understand health information, according to a new study.

After receiving the same streamlined and instruction during a childhood obesity treatment program in the Dan River region of Virginia and North Carolina, families with low and high healthy rates saw similar improvements in body mass index, a common measure of obesity, for the entire .

Designing childhood obesity programs for families with limited is critical to their success, according to the University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers who led the study. Approximately 1 in 3 U.S. parents or caregivers have low literacy, meaning they have limited ability to understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions for themselves and their .

"Parents with lower health literacy also have children with poorer health outcomes," said Jamie Zoellner, PhD, the study's co-principal investigator and a researcher in UVA's Department of Public Health Sciences. "However, few childhood obesity treatment programs incorporate design features and treatment strategies that meet the health literacy needs of parents."

Making Health Information Easier to Understand

The three-month program in the Dan River area focused on behavioral strategies aimed at improving healthy eating and physical activity. Instruction included six small-group family classes, six telephone support calls, 24 exercise sessions and six newsletters for children, along with parent and child workbooks. The researchers designed the materials and teaching sessions with the assumption that all participants may have difficulty reading, comprehending and acting on health information.

"Regardless of health literacy status, everyone can benefit from simplified health information, reduced literacy demands of program components, reinforcement of key messages and practice activities that promote skill development and self-management," Zoellner said.

For example, all written materials were at a fifth-grade reading level, and instructors used verbal teach-back methods - which ask participants to restate in their own words or demonstrate what they were taught - to ensure they understood the they were receiving.

This approach led to similar positive outcomes for families with low and high health literacy levels. Along with improvements in , children and adults also reduced their consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. Children of all health literacy levels also saw improvements in quality of life, while adults saw improvements in physical activity levels as well as fruit and vegetable consumption.

The only exception was in the amount of screen time for children. While children from low health literacy families reported having more screen time both before and after the program, the gap in screen time between low health literacy and high health literacy families narrowed after families participated in the program.

A six-month version of the childhood obesity treatment program, called iChoose, is now being tested in the Dan River region.

The study has been published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Explore further: Poorer health literacy associated with longer hospital stay after surgery

Related Stories

Poorer health literacy associated with longer hospital stay after surgery

October 4, 2017
Among more than 1,200 patients who underwent major abdominal surgery, a lower health literacy level was associated with a longer hospital length of stay, according to a study published by JAMA Surgery.

Poor health literacy a public health issue

October 13, 2016
America's poor record on health literacy is a public health issue, but one that can be fixed - not by logging onto the internet but by increased interaction with your fellow human beings, a Michigan State University researcher ...

Universal health literacy precautions recommended

July 20, 2015
(HealthDay)—Universal health literacy precautions should be used to provide understandable information for all patients, according to an article published in the July 15 issue of American Family Physician.

Low health literacy is associated with preventable emergency department visits

August 31, 2017
Low health literacy is a risk factor for potentially preventable emergency department (ED) visits, particularly those that result in hospital admission. That is the primary finding of a study to be published in the September ...

Parents' health literacy affects child weight-loss tactics, study finds

July 28, 2015
Parents who have low health literacy are less likely to choose government-recommended weight-loss strategies, such as increasing physical activity or serving more fruits and vegetables, to help their children control their ...

Recommended for you

How obesity dulls the sense of taste

March 20, 2018
Previous studies have indicated that weight gain can reduce one's sensitivity to the taste of food, and that this effect can be reversed when the weight is lost again, but it's been unclear as to how this phenomenon arises. ...

Early puberty linked with increased risk of obesity for women

March 15, 2018
Girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to be overweight as adults, finds new research from Imperial College London.

New link between gut bacteria and obesity

February 26, 2018
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered a new link between gut bacteria and obesity. They found that certain amino acids in the blood are connected to obesity and the composition of the gut microbiome.

Instead of nagging your spouse to lose weight, try going on a diet yourself

February 22, 2018
Tired of nagging your spouse to lose a few pounds? You might get better results by going on a diet yourself.

PFASs, chemicals commonly found in environment, may interfere with body weight regulation

February 13, 2018
A class of chemicals used in many industrial and consumer products was linked with greater weight gain after dieting, particularly among women, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The chemicals—perfluoroalkyl ...

Study shows benefits of exercise can outweigh health effects of severe obesity

February 12, 2018
Can you be fit and healthy even if you're overweight? That's the question researchers at York University's Faculty of Health set out to answer in a new study that shows physical activity may be equally and perhaps even more ...


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.