Obesity interventions in children have limited effect
Jul 20, 2005 - 3:06:38 PM

Many diet and exercise interventions aimed at preventing childhood obesity promote healthy diets and increased physical activity, but do not appear to have radical impacts on reducing overweight and obesity gain.

The epidemic of child obesity demands serious action, and around the world many people have looked at ways of helping children eat less and exercise more. In preparing this review, the Cochrane Review Authors identified 22 studies that between them tested a variety of different approaches involving changes to diet, exercise, or diet and exercise. By pooling data, the review drew on findings from about 10,000 participants who were under 18 years old and came from Asia, South America, Europe and North America.

While the authors were unable to identify one particular program that could prevent obesity in children lead-author, Carolyn Summerbell, a Professor of Human Nutrition who works at the University of Teesside, England, believes that any intervention that leads to a better lifestyle will reduce obesity if it is kept up for long enough.

Summerbell believes that the most effective programmes are the ones that put fun into fitness and good food. This means that features like dance and martial arts should be included alongside traditional sports and physical exercise in the school curriculum.

Despite the importance of childhood obesity, the review was only able to find a limited number of studies to draw findings from and some of these were pilot projects that showed great promise but were not designed to be able to measure changes in body weight.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that decision-makers need much more information on which to base policy and program decisions," says Professor Elizabeth Waters, who is a professor of Public Health based at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

The authors note that there are many different programmes underway at the moment, and look forward to seeing the outcomes. "We believe that programmes aimed at creating environments that enable and support long-term behaviour change are likely to make more of a positive impact than the interventions that people have studied so far," Waters adds.

"This review made a central contribution to the WHO Expert Consultation on childhood obesity at Kobe, Japan, in June 2005, and the report of this consultation will be published in June 2006. As one of a number of reviews where a controlled evaluation has been used it makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of childhood obesity. But given the importance of tackling childhood obesity it is clear that there is a need for much more research in the area, and research that is thoroughly designed so that it generates useful data," says Summerbell

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