Getting the family involved may help obese kids lose weight

Childhood obesity is a complex issue with no simple solutions, but involving the entire family in weight loss and health may help kids achieve their goals, a report finds.

A scientific statement released Monday in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn. reviews strategies shown to be successful in helping kids slim down. Some studies find that obese children can have symptoms normally associated with adult obesity, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. Others suggest that overweight kids often turn into overweight adults.

Involving parents in weight loss efforts could go a long way in helping children change their behaviors, the authors said.


“In many cases, the adults in a family may be the most effective change agents to help obese children attain and maintain a healthier weight,” said Myles Faith, chairman of the American Heart Assn.'s statement writing group, in a news release. “To do so, the adults may need to modify their own behavior and try some research-based strategies.”

Some of those strategies include singling out specific behaviors that need to be changed. It’s not enough, for example, to say exercise more; the exercise needs to be spelled out. Changing the kitchen around to make more wholesome foods more accessible has been shown in some studies to be helpful in losing weight in the short-term. And setting small, achievable goals that are age-appropriate may get kids to stick to more healthful habits.

Other useful approaches include praising kids for what they’re doing right -- instead of punishing them for what they’re doing wrong -- and having parents back that up through their own consistent behavior.

In reviewing other studies that focused on parental involvement researchers saw mixed results for weight control. Most studies did not show substantially more weight loss when parents were more involved, and the authors said future studies need to address what works and under what conditions.

Gaps in research still remain, they added, such as how to get parents to understand their kids are overweight or obese, determining the role grandparents and others play in changing lifestyles, and seeing how effective technology can be.