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Children's Health

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Obese Kids May Need Long-Term Plan

Study: Weight-Maintenance Programs Help Overweight Children Sustain Weight Loss
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 9, 2007 -- A little help may go a long way in helping overweight children maintain weight loss.

New research shows that when overweight kids lose weight, they're more likely to stay in shape if they take part in a weight-maintenance program.

Such programs provide tips on healthy eating, physical activity, and dealing with peer pressure and situations where it's tempting to overindulge in food or be inactive.

The findings appear in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers included Denise Wilfley, PhD, of the psychiatry department at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Kids' Weight Ballooning

The proportion of U.S. children who are overweight has tripled in recent decades, write Denise Wilfley, PhD, and colleagues.

Consider these CDC statistics (gathered in 2003-2004):

  • Nearly 14% of children aged 2-5 are overweight.
  • Almost 19% of children aged 6-11 are overweight.
  • About 17% of adolescents aged 12-19 are overweight.

Those figures are based on BMI (body mass index), which relates height to weight. The CDC makes adjustments for kids' growth.

The CDC doesn't track childhood obesity. Instead, the CDC simply says children are overweight if their BMI is at or above the 95th percentile for kids of the same age and sex.

Overweight kids are more likely than other kids to become obese adults, according to the CDC. Of course, people can gain or lose extra weight at any age.

Children's Weight Loss Study

Wilfley's team studied 150 children aged 7-12 who were overweight and who had at least one overweight parent.

The kids lost weight in a weight loss program that lasted for five months. Then they were split into three groups.

One group of kids entered a weight-maintenance program that emphasized healthy behaviors, such as choosing to eat healthfully and be active. Parents participated, too.

Another group of children entered a different weight-maintenance program that stressed social skills, such as dealing with teasing from other kids, building a good body image, and being physically active with friends.

For comparison, the third group of children didn't join a weight-maintenance program.

The children in the two weight-maintenance programs were more likely than those in the comparison group to avoid regaining weight in the following two years.

But long-term success wasn't guaranteed. The weight-maintenance programs' effects waned somewhat over time.

Wilfley's study is "a useful starting point," but families, schools, communities, and food marketers should also be part of the solution, according to an editorial published with the study.

The editorialists included Erinn Rhodes, MD, MPH, of Children's Hospital Boston.

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