For fitness professionals with an interest in nutrition, understanding the dynamics of childhood obesity and effective intervention strategies is vital. A recent study titled “A long-term follow-up of treatment for young children with obesity: a randomised controlled trial” by Anna Ek and her colleagues, published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2023, provides valuable insights into the long-term effects of obesity treatment for young children. This study highlights the importance of early interventions, particularly those involving parental support, in combating childhood obesity.
The study conducted spanned over five years (2012–2017) and involved 171 families with children aged 4 to 6 years who were experiencing obesity issues. Participants were divided into three treatment groups:
- Parental Guidance with Booster Sessions (PGB): A 10-week parent support programme followed by booster sessions.
- Parental Guidance without Booster Sessions (PGNB): A 10-week parent support programme without booster sessions.
- Standard Outpatient Treatment (ST): Conventional outpatient treatment for childhood obesity.
The primary outcome measure was BMI-SDS (BMI standard deviation score), with secondary outcomes including BMI and %IOTF25 (the percentage above the cut-off for overweight). The study aimed to assess the long-term effects of these interventions on child weight status.
After 48 months (approximately 4 years) of treatment initiation, the study yielded several significant findings:
- Reduction in BMI-SDS: In all groups, BMI-SDS was significantly reduced. PGB showed the most substantial reduction (-0.45), followed by PGNB (-0.34) and ST (-0.25). However, there were no significant differences in reductions between the groups.
- Clinically Significant Reduction: A clinically significant reduction in BMI-SDS (≥0.5) was observed in 53.7% of children in the PGB group, which was twice as likely compared to the ST group (33.0%). This finding suggests that early parental support has a significant impact on achieving meaningful weight loss in children.
- %IOTF25: The percentage of children above the cut-off for overweight (%IOTF25) remained unchanged for PGB but significantly increased for the ST group. This indicates that the PGB intervention was more effective in preventing further weight gain in children.
- Sociodemographic Factors and Attendance: The study found that sociodemographic factors and attendance did not significantly influence the outcomes, suggesting that the interventions were generally effective across diverse backgrounds and attendance levels.
Implications for Us
As fitness professionals with a keen interest in nutrition, this study offers valuable insights for working with clients, especially those dealing with childhood obesity:
- Emphasise Parental Support: The study underscores the importance of involving parents in childhood obesity interventions. Fitness professionals can encourage parents to actively participate in their child’s nutrition and exercise routines, offering guidance and support.
- Set Realistic Goals: While significant reductions in BMI-SDS are achievable, fitness professionals should set realistic goals for long-term weight management, focusing on sustainable changes in lifestyle and habits.
- Tailor Interventions: Understanding that different families may have varying needs, fitness professionals can tailor interventions to suit each family’s circumstances while maintaining a focus on parental involvement.
- Monitor Progress: Regularly tracking a child’s progress is crucial. Use metrics like BMI-SDS and %IOTF25 to assess improvements and adjust interventions as needed.
- Promote Preventive Measures: Encourage clients to adopt preventive measures to maintain healthy weight status even after significant improvements have been achieved.
The study by Ek et al. highlights the lasting positive effects of early childhood obesity interventions that involve parental support. Fitness professionals can use this valuable information to guide their clients toward effective long-term weight management strategies. By emphasising parental involvement, setting realistic goals, and monitoring progress, fitness professionals can play a pivotal role in combating childhood obesity and promoting healthier futures for young clients.
- Ek, A., Brissman, M., Nordin, K., Eli, K., & Nowicka, P. (2023). A long-term follow-up of treatment for young children with obesity: a randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Obesity. Click here to review the full research article
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