THURSDAY, March 22, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Losing weight themselves is the best way for parents to help their children shed excess pounds, new research suggests.
The study included 80 parent-child sets with an overweight or obese 8- to 12-year-old. The participants took part in a parent-only or parent/child treatment program for five months.
The researchers assessed the effectiveness of three types of parenting skills taught in the family-based treatment programs for childhood obesity. The skills included: leading by example, or parents who took steps to lose weight themselves; changing the home food environment; and parenting style, such as encouraging the child to take part in the weight-loss program or helping limit what the child ate.
As in previous studies, this one found that parents' weight loss was the only significant predictor of children's weight loss.
"The No. 1 way in which parents can help an obese child lose weight? Lose weight themselves," Kerri Boutelle, an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, said in a UCSD Health Sciences news release. "In this study, it was the most important predictor of child weight loss."
The findings were published online in the journal Obesity.
"Parents are the most significant people in a child's environment, serving as the first and most important teachers," said Boutelle, who is also head of the eating disorders behavioral treatment program at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. "They play a significant role in any weight-loss program for children, and this study confirms the importance of their example in establishing healthy eating and exercise behaviors for their kids."
About 31 percent of children in the United States -- between 4 million and 5 million kids -- are overweight or obese, according to recent data.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains how parents can help overweight children.