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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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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.

Lona Sandon, a registered dietician and an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said the current findings echo those of previous studies.

"Previous studies have shown that preschoolers and young children do see their parents as role models and will mimic parent behaviors including what they eat," Sandon noted. "Parents influence what and how much children will eat through modeling. They also have complete control over the food and activity opportunities that are available for their children," she pointed out.

"[So] parents must be part of programs that address childhood obesity, because they must be on the same page with what the children are learning and behaviors that need to change," Sandon said.

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