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Fighting childhood obesity

family-cookingOverweight and obese Hispanic children participating in increased behavioral counseling and education were more likely to adopt healthier lifestyles, resulting in healthier weights, according to a pilot study of children ages 5 to 14.

The study paved the way for a $2.9 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health. It will extend the study through 2019.

“The pilot study was the ‘proof of concept’ we needed to be able to get full funding,” said Deborah Parra-Medina, Ph.D., M.P.H., study author and associate director for education and training programs at the Institute for Health Promotion Research.

A disproportionate number of Hispanic children in the U.S. are obese. Researchers believe if they are given additional counseling and education beyond the typical standard of care, weight gain can be controlled.

“Comprehensive behavioral programs have been shown to help these children improve their weight status, however, more efficient interventions that can be done in primary care clinics must be developed for Hispanic children,” Dr. Parra-Medina said.

The pilot study trained pediatric health care providers and clinical staff to offer behavioral counseling during routine clinic visits, and to schedule three follow-up visits over four months, following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

Beyond that, half of the participants received additional behavioral interventions, including a face-to-face counseling session with a health educator in which a family action plan was created, monthly telephone counseling and newsletters for a four-month period. All participants had to adopt two healthy dietary behaviors, and play outside for an hour or limit TV time to less than two hours a day.

“In these studies, we do not promote weight loss with children. We promote a healthier rate of weight gain,” Dr. Parra-Medina said. “Children have the advantage of growing. We hope to slow down their weight gain so they can grow into their weight. We hope they will adopt these healthy lifestyle changes so they will not leave childhood overweight or obese and continue that trajectory into adulthood.”

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