Mindfulness-based therapy may help reduce stress, appetite and body weight in children with obesity and anxiety, according to a study published in Endocrine Connections. They reported that obese children on a calorie-restricted diet alongside mindfulness therapy lose more weight and are less stressed and hungry, than children on a calorie-restricted diet alone. These findings suggest that mindfulness has potential to help obese children lose more weight through dieting and may reduce their risk of serious health issues, such as high blood pressure or stroke, although further research is needed to confirm this.
Childhood obesity increases the risk of a number of detrimental medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and can also be associated with stress and anxiety. Despite this common association, most treatment strategies don't address psychological factors and focus solely on diet and exercise. Previous studies suggest many eating disorders associated with obesity, such as binge eating, can be driven by elevated stress levels that make it more difficult to stick to dietary regimes.
Mindfulness is a psychological technique that uses meditation to increase personal awareness, and has successfully helped reduce stress associated with other diseases, such as cancer and anorexia nervosa. Therefore, combining both diet and mindfulness treatment strategies may lead to improved weight loss results in obese children, than a restricted diet alone.
In this study, Dr Mardia López-Alarcón investigated the effect of mindfulness-based therapy on stress, appetite and body weight of children with obesity and anxiety. Children selected for the study completed a self-report questionnaire to measure levels of anxiety and their body mass index was recorded. A group of 33 children were taught mindfulness skills in 2-hour guided sessions, once a week, for eight weeks, alongside a typical calorie-restricted diet. Another group of 12 children completed an eight week calorie-restricted diet only. The combined therapy led to significantly greater reductions in weight, anxiety and in the levels of two hormones related to stress and appetite, cortisol and ghrelin. Whereas an increase in anxiety and a smaller weight reduction was observed in the group on a calorie-restricted diet alone.
"Our results suggest that restricted diets may in fact increase anxiety in obese children. However, practicing mindfulness, as well dieting, may counteract this and promote more efficient weight loss," Dr López-Alarcón comments.
These findings provide evidence that mindfulness may have potential for managing anxiety and weight in obese children on calorie-restricted diets, by reducing appetite and stress hormones. The increased levels of anxiety observed in the calorie-restricted only group, suggest that current weight loss strategies should consider psychological factors, as well as physical and lifestyle factors, in order to achieve better results.
Dr López-Alarcón recommends, "The potential counter effect anxiety may have on weight loss should be considered when children are undergoing dietary restriction. Our research supports the inclusion of mindfulness as a strategy to reduce anxiety and increase the chance of successful weight loss."
However, this preliminary data compared just 33 children on the combined therapy with 12 dieting alone. Dr López-Alarcón and her team now plan to assess the potential benefits of this technique in larger groups of children.
Peer-reviewed, Observational, Humans