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Behavioral Management Plans Help Kids Lose Weight

Most effective programs include techniques to improve diet, exercise habits, study says

FRIDAY, Oct. 3, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Behavioral management weight loss programs can help obese school-age children and teens lose weight or prevent further weight gain, according to a new report.

Approximately 17 percent of American children and teens are obese, defined as having a body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) at or above the 95th percentile for their age and sex. Children who are obese are at increased risk for asthma, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, psychological harm, and other weight-related problems.

In a new study released Sept. 29, researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) evaluated methods for weight loss and the prevention of further weight gain in children and teens.

The researchers found that the obese children who completed weight management programs weighed between 3 pounds and 23 pounds less, on average, that obese children who were not involved in such programs. This weight difference was the greatest among the heavier children and those who were enrolled in more intensive programs.

"Effective prevention is the best way to stem the childhood obesity epidemic, but we also have to find effective and healthy ways of helping our children and teens who already are obese get to a healthier weight," AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy said in an agency news release.

The medium- to high-intensity behavioral management programs investigated in this study met for more than 25 hours, usually once or twice a week, for six months to a year. The most effective programs included techniques to improve diet and exercise habits. Some programs focused on goal setting, problem solving, and relapse prevention.

"Obese children and their families may be discouraged about their weight, but our review found there are programs out there that can help kids to either gain weight more slowly as their grow or, where appropriate, lose weight," Dr. Evelyn Whitlock, associate director of the AHRQ-supported Oregon Evidence-Based Practice Center at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Portland, said in the news release.

In one of the studies included in the report, 8- to 16-year-old obese children who participated in a high-intensity behavioral management weight loss program gained less than one pound on average, compared with their obese counterparts who were not participating in the program and gained almost 17 pounds.

The researchers also found that intensive, health care-based programs were generally more effective than school-based programs. And, prescription weight loss drugs and weight-reduction surgery were both associated with weight loss in obese children and teens, but they were also associated with adverse side effects, while there were no reported harms from behavioral intervention alone.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about childhood obesity.

SOURCE: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, news release, Sept. 29, 2008
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