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Make Kids' Weight Loss a Family Affair: Study

If parent and preschooler are both overweight, tackling it together works best, researchers say
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The goal: to change the whole family's behavior regarding food consumption and physical activity.

For example, practice enhancement assistants discussed the need for appropriate food portions and caloric content, alongside the dangers of consuming foods loaded up with too much sugar, fat, or artificial sweeteners.

Parents in the child-parent team group were also instructed to keep food diaries and progress graphs for themselves and their children, and were given weekly weight loss goals for all concerned.

The result: after tracking all participants for one year following treatment completion, investigators found that the preschoolers enrolled in the family-based program gained an average of 12 pounds over a two-year period. This compared with a gain of about 16 pounds among those enrolled in the traditional child-only program.

What's more, parents who participated in the family-based program themselves lost an average of 14 pounds in the same timeframe, compared with basically no weight loss whatsoever among parents in the child-only program.

Quattrin stressed that there's no reason to think similar programs wouldn't work equally well in helping families with older kids.

But what about parents who might be interested in a do-it-yourself family effort, one that doesn't rely on expert guidance?

"I don't know if we have the research yet to show whether or not families who try this on their own outside of a specialized weight management environment can be as successful in the long run," Quattrin noted. "It's very helpful to have this kind of guidance, so that the dietary and exercise information that is out there is not misinterpreted," she added.

"But at the same time, it's important that parents know that you really don't have to be 100 percent successful. It's not all or nothing," she said.

"What's important is that parents make a family-based commitment to get soda out of the house, to increase the amount of vegetables they eat, to learn more about portion size, etc. These are certainly all changes families can make if they really want to, particularly if they do it in consultation with their primary care doctor who can, at minimum, offer help and advice. So I'd say that our message should be a positive one: that a healthier lifestyle is within everyone's reach," Quattrin said.

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