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Automated Counseling System Benefits Overweight Children

Children of parents who complete at least six counseling calls see modest reduction in body mass index

THURSDAY, Dec. 18 (HealthDay News) -- An automated telephone counseling system can help parents improve eating and activity behaviors in overweight or at-risk children, and may lead to modest reductions in body mass index (BMI) z-scores, researchers report in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Paul A. Estabrooks, Ph.D., of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., and colleagues randomly assigned 220 parent-child dyads to one of the three Family Connections interventions: a workbook, a group, or interactive voice-response counseling.

The researchers found that only the interactive voice-response counseling intervention was associated with a decrease in BMI z-scores from baseline to six months and from baseline to 12 months. They also found that parental completion of at least six of the 10 counseling calls was associated with decreased BMI z-scores.

"The clinical significance of a small reduction in BMI z-scores, like that seen in this study, is unclear," the authors write. "Future research should focus on understanding the optimal integration of automated telephone counseling with human intervention strategies to improve the magnitude of effect and the potential for broad reach while monitoring the cost and cost effectiveness of pediatric weight-management programs."

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