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If parent and preschooler are both overweight, tackling it together works best, researchers say

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who want to help their preschooler shed excess pounds may want to team up with their child, new research suggests.

Youngsters whose parents joined them in a supervised behavioral modification program gained less weight than their peers who were enrolled in a traditional child-only program (an average difference of about four pounds over two years). Their parent partners also benefited, losing almost 15 pounds over two years, according to the study.

"In a nutshell, we found that with supervised expert guidance in a primary care setting, it's possible to help preschoolers gain weight at a healthier pace as they grow, and at the same time also help parents lose, too," explained study lead author Dr. Teresa Quattrin, a professor at the University at Buffalo, and pediatrician-in-chief at the Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y.

"But when the focus is on children alone you see less of a benefit for them," she added. "And obviously no benefit for the parents. So this family approach is a win-win."

Quattrin and her colleagues published their findings in the August issue of Pediatrics.

Weight problems often start at a young age. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. preschoolers are heavier than they should be, according to background information in the study. But, excess weight this early in childhood is a relatively new problem, so experts don't yet know the best way to treat overweight in this young group of kids.

To explore a potential treatment option, the study authors enlisted almost 100 children in the Buffalo area who were between the ages of 2 and 5 years.

All were either overweight or obese, and all had at least one parent who was also struggling with excess weight.

For one year, half the parents attended 13 one-hour group sessions in a primary care setting. During that time, all were given standard weight-loss information solely aimed at helping their child shed weight.

The remaining parents received the same general advice. But in addition, all were given hands-on guidance -- in person and by phone -- from "practice enhancement assistants" with training in psychology, nutrition and exercise science.

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