Are Weight Management Programs Involving Parents and Children Effective?

weight management

American researchers recently conducted a study investigating whether weight management that involves parents and children successfully can lead to weight loss.

Over the last three decades, significant increases in obesity rates and the prevalence of overweight individuals have been observed in the United States. Although increases in obesity have been observed in all racial groups, research has shown that African American and Hispanic children and adults are a particularly high-risk group. Prior research looking into successful weight management strategies has found that strategies involving parents and behavioral and cognitive elements are the most effective.

What are the Effects in Low-Income Settings?

Notably, researchers have conducted the majority of these types of studies with non-Hispanic white children, no parental involvement, and at the middle-income level. To fill this knowledge gap and see whether this phenomenon holds for other racial groups, a team of researchers in North Carolina conducted a five-year study that randomized pairs of children and parents to test the effectiveness of a weight management intervention that included nutrition, coping skills, exercise, and nutrition and exercise education components.

Most of the parent participants were low-income African American women. Pedometers and logbooks were provided to children and adults and both were instructed to complete various questionnaires asking about health behaviors including eating and exercising information. The results were recently published in the journal BMC Obesity.

After finishing the 18-month weight management program, researchers found that a positive relationship existed between changes in waist circumference and adiposity. The researchers did not observe any significant relationships between children’s and parents’ changes in self-efficacy, eating habits, or body mass index (BMI).

Limited Opportunities for Exercise and Nutrition

Parents were interviewed after the intervention and it became clear that the low-income occupations held by parents meant that they (and their children) had fewer choices over what foods they ate due to subsidized lunches and breakfasts being common among the participants.

The parents also noted that there was little flexibility in their jobs, so opportunities for exercise during the workday were minimal. Parents also communicated that they felt their areas were not always safe which also discouraged them (and their children) to exercise outside.

The results from this study can be used to inform future weight management interventions for parents and children. Future research should consider that waist circumference or body fat might be a superior measurement (in comparison to BMI) to use when studying interventions for children.

Written by Melissa Booker

Reference: Berry, D. C., McMurray, R. G., Schwartz, T. A., Hall, E. G., Neal, M. N., & Adatorwover, R. (2017). A cluster randomized controlled trial for child and parent weight management: children and parents randomized to the intervention group have correlated changes in adiposity. BMC Obesity, 4(39). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/s40608-017-0175-z

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