Obesity in children is a major health problem. In the U.S., children from low-income, minority populations are more likely to be obese than white children and those from higher income groups. Research shows that short-term programs over 6 months to 1 year can help prevent excess weight gain in children who are already overweight or obese. However, these programs are usually expensive and hard to access for low-income communities. A new study from California compares two new ways to reduce excess weight gain among Hispanic/Latino children.
Change eating behavior, reduce screen time and increase exercise
This study from Stanford included 241 Latino children and their families in low-income neighborhoods in northern California. All children were 7-11 years old and overweight or obese. In one group of children, specially trained health workers worked with the children, their families and peers in their homes, schools and community to help children eat better, sit less in front of a screen, and move more. Another group of children got two home visits per year with a health educator, monthly health education newsletters, quarterly educational presentations and a few social events per year.
Long-term improvement is hard
Researchers used body mass index (BMI) to measure children’s body fat based on their height and weight. They found that, for two years, the children in the first group (those who worked on various behavior changes with people around them in multiple settings) had healthier BMI’s than the other group of children. However, the groups were about the same after three years, maybe because some children left the program.
The need for multiple approaches
These findings suggest that working on various behaviors with support in home, school, and community settings can help overweight and obese children in poor families avoid gaining more weight for at least 2 years. This could help doctors and health educators reduce childhood obesity in those at most risk. We need to develop similar programs that work for longer periods.
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