childhood obesity

Parent-based treatment (PBT) programs and family-based treatment (FBT) programs are  similarly effective for child weight loss. Moreover, PBT is also effective for parent weight loss and energy intake, in addition to improving physical activity for both child and parent.


Since one-third of American children are classified as obese or overweight, effective treatment programs are required to minimize the negative health outcomes of childhood obesity. FBT programs, where both the parent and child attend group meetings, have been considered the standard treatment for childhood obesity. However, these programs are sometimes impractical for busy families. The primary purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of FBT and PBT programs on child weight loss. As secondary outcomes, the researchers also assessed parent weight, child and parent energy intake, child and parent physical activity, parenting style, and parent feeding behaviors.

Between July 2011 and July 2015, 150 child-parent dyads were recruited for the study. Half of the child-parent dyads were randomized to attend PBT sessions and the other half were to attend FBT sessions. Both the parent and child were required to attend the FBT sessions, whereas only the parent was to attend the PBT sessions. Each treatment program was similar in content and outcome measures were collected at baseline, then after 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months from the start of the study.

Kerri N. Boutelle from the University of California Department of Pediatrics in San Diego, California and colleagues from various other US universities published their results online in the Journal of the American Medical Association on May 30, 2017. Over the course of the 18-month study, children in both the PBT and FBT programs showed similar decreases in standardized BMI. For parent weight loss, at the 6-month follow-up, there were no statistically significant differences in BMI across groups. However, after the 6-month follow-up, parents in the PBT group gained more weight. For both children and parents across the treatment groups, no statistically significant differences were observed for the daily energy intake consumed and moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity. Nevertheless, there was a more rapid increase in energy intake in parents following the PBT program after the 6-month follow-up. Finally, the researchers found no differences in the changes in parenting style and feeding behavior between the FBT and PBT groups over the 18-month study.

Both programs have their own strengths and limitations. In order to choose the appropriate treatment program family specific preferences must be explored further. Both PBT and FBT programs are effective and can thus be used to offer childhood obesity treatment to a wider variety of families.


Written By: Jessica Caporuscio, PharmD


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