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Childhood obesity prevention programs can be effective, review finds

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 14-Dec-2011

There is strong evidence that childhood obesity prevention strategies are beneficial for reducing bodyweight in overweight children, particularly those aged six to 12, according to a new Cochrane Review.

An international team of researchers examined 55 studies looking at the effectiveness of childhood obesity prevention strategies, assessing them primarily by change in body mass index (BMI). They also aimed to work out if there were certain strategies that worked for certain populations, and the potential for harm of obesity prevention programs.

“Although only a few studies looked at whether programs were harmful, the results suggest that those obesity prevention strategies do not increase body image concerns, unhealthy dieting practices, level of underweight, or unhealthy attitudes to weight, and that all children can benefit,” the review’s authors found.

After assessing the different components of each program identified, the most promising programs included supporting parents and home activities that encouraged children to be more active, eat more nutritious foods and spend less time in screen-based activities, and also several school-based programs, they wrote.

Lead researcher of this study, Prof Elizabeth Waters, of the McCaughey Centre at the University of Melbourne, Australia, said: "There is now compelling evidence that strategies can be implemented to halt the growing rates of obesity in children. We know that doing nothing is likely to result in increases of overweight and obesity, particularly in countries where the prevalence continues to rise.”

School-based factors that were found to be most effective included a school curriculum that involves healthy eating, physical activity and body image; improvements in nutritional quality of food supplied at school; extra physical activity sessions; and support for teachers and other staff to implement health promotion strategies and activities.

"Research that aims to reduce childhood obesity must now concentrate on finding ways of embedding effective interventions in health, education and care systems, so that we can make population-wide, long term impacts on the levels of obesity," said Waters.

Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

2011 Iss. 12, Art. No. CD001871. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001871.pub3

“Interventions for preventing obesity in children”

E. Waters, A. de Silva-Sanigorski, B.J. Hall, T. Brown, K.J. Campbell, Y. Gao, R. Armstrong, L. Prosser, C.D. Summerbell.