San Diego (US): A guided self-help programme is effective in treating paediatric obesity and improving attendance rates, according to new research led by a team of scientists.
The findings of the research were published in the journal 'PEDIATRICS'.
Pediatric obesity remains a serious health problem in the United States, where one in five children are affected. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that paediatricians screen for obesity during primary care visits and refer families to behavioural intervention programs. While there is growing interest in providing these services, accessibility continues to challenge their success.
To address this, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine conducted a randomized clinical trial comparing the leading treatment program, Family-Based Treatment (FBT), with a new Guided Self-Help (GSH) program designed to provide similar resources in a less intensive and more accessible way.
The study found that GSH and FBT were similarly effective in supporting pediatric weight loss, but families were more likely to maintain attendance in GSH.
In the clinical trial, 164 children and their parents were randomly assigned to one of the two programs. Participants were recruited from two clinic sites in San Diego County, which primarily serve Latino families. The prevalence of childhood obesity in these neighbourhoods (Escondido and Chula Vista) is 38 per cent.
The traditional FBT program consists of 20 one-hour group sessions over six months. FBT is held at academic research centres, which adds geographical constraints. Attrition rates in these programs are high, with many parents noting scheduling issues, transportation difficulties and competing work and family responsibilities as contributing factors.
In response to these challenges, the GSH model was developed to provide shorter treatment sessions and greater scheduling flexibility. The new program consists of 14 visits, every 20 minutes in length and is held at the child's primary care clinic. Families are given material to practice between sessions in a self-directed manner and then meet individually with a health coach to review and troubleshoot strategies. Both programs teach families how to self-monitor food intake, set healthy goals and modify the home environment to promote behavioural change. Additional sessions address topics of body image, bullying and emotional health.
"The program is not framed around weight loss per se, but about developing healthy lifestyle behaviours," said the study's corresponding author Kyung E. Rhee, MD, professor of paediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Nevertheless, children in both groups showed significant reductions in their body mass index percentiles, which were largely maintained at the time of the six-month follow-up. However, families assigned to GSH showed a nearly 70 per cent lower risk of attrition and reported greater satisfaction and convenience. GSH participants attended more than half of the treatment sessions while FBT participants only attended one in five sessions on average.
"The success of the Guided Self-Help program is really promising for both patients and physicians," said Rhee. "It's always rewarding to hear that families were so appreciative of our help, but we were also surprised by how grateful the physicians were to have this program available in their office. These can be difficult conversations for them to initiate during standard checkups, but knowing they had a clear and effective way to provide care was really empowering for them."
In the current program, GSH health coaches were trained and employed by the research team. To sustain the program, Rhee said health care groups will have to work within the current primary care system to identify individuals who can provide these services on location. The goal, she said, is to work toward a collaborative care model in which clinics employ their own behavioural counsellors and support the delivery of additional services at schools and community centres. "We cannot make a difference if the families can't show up for treatment," said Rhee, "so we owe it to them to make these programs as accessible and effective as possible." —ANI