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Must children attend obesity treatment with parents to be effective?

The JAMA Network Journals

Childhood overweight or obesity is associated with negative health outcomes and family-based obesity treatment delivered to both children and parents is considered to be effective. But do children need to attend obesity treatment with parents for it to be effective?

A new article published by JAMA Pediatrics examined whether parent-based treatment (PBT) without their children was as effective as family-based weight loss treatment (FBT) that is provided to parents and children.

Kerri N. Boutelle, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego, and coauthors measured child weight loss over 24 months, as well as other outcomes including parent weight loss, child and parent calorie intake and physical activity, and parenting style. The randomized clinical trial was conducted at the University of California, San Diego, and included 150 overweight and obese children (ages 8 to 12) and their parent.

Both FBT and PBT included nutrition and physical activity recommendations, parenting skills and behavior modification strategies. The only difference was the attendance, or not, of the child at 20 group meetings and behavioral coaching sessions over six months.

PBT was as effective on child weight loss, with children in both PBT and FBT experiencing decreases in body mass index (BMI) z scores by the end of the treatment (-0.25 BMI z score after six months) that was largely sustained throughout the 18-month assessment that followed, according to the results.

PBT also was as effective on child and parent calorie intake and physical activity. While PBT was as effective as FBT on parent weight outcomes at the 6-month follow-up, parents in PBT gained more weight over time, the article reports. Both interventions affected parenting style and feeding behavior similarly, suggesting that child attendance at treatment is not necessary to achieve similar outcomes.

Among the limitations of the study are that it didn't include a placebo control intervention.

"This study provides sound empirical evidence supporting a PBT model for the delivery of childhood obesity treatment. Given the high rates of obesity in children, PBT is a model that could be used to provide treatment to a greater proportion of the population," the article concludes.


For more details and to read the full study, please visit the For The Media website.


Editor's Note: The article contains funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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