At a time of economic uncertainty that hearkens back to Bill Clinton’s celebrated 1992 election theme, “It’s the economy, stupid,” a new study was released this week that reminds us that, for weight control, “it’s the behavior, stupid.”

In this study, researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) evaluated methods for weight loss and the prevention of further weight gain in children and teens.

The researchers found that the obese children who completed weight loss programs with a focus on behavioral management weighed between 3 pounds and 23 pounds less, on average, than obese children who were not involved in such programs. This weight difference was the greatest among those who were enrolled in more intensive programs.

“We have to find effective and healthy ways of helping our children and teens who already are obese get to a healthier weight,” AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy said in an agency news release.

The medium- to high-intensity behavioral management programs investigated in this study met for more than 25 hours, usually once or twice a week, for six months to a year. The most effective programs included techniques to improve diet and exercise habits, and some programs focused on goal setting, problem solving, and relapse prevention.

In one of the studies included in the report, 8- to 16-year-old obese children who participated in a high-intensity behavioral management weight loss program gained less than one pound on average, compared with their obese counterparts who were not participating in the program and gained almost 17 pounds.

Wellspring Academies and Camps are the most intensive of all weight loss programs that focus on behavioral change. Wellspring’s outcomes demonstrate average weight loss of 3-5 lbs. per week, with alumni maintaining or continuing weight loss following completion of the program.

Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky is a New York-based pediatrician and the proud parent of a Wellspring alumnus. He understands that it’s all about behavior and recently posted the following on his practice’s blog:

Education vs. Training

For those of us who have a driver’s license, education is what we got to pass the written exam; training is the actual lessons in a dual-control car. And the difference is that we can drive after being trained, but not after being educated.

This lesson was recently driven home to me in a most impressive fashion. I drove my son to a weight-reduction camp, and returned a month later to pick up a much different person. 16 pounds lighter, yes, but that’s the least of it. I picked up someone who learned responsibility, self-respect, self-reliance, confidence, and strength. I picked up someone who was trained in all the values I had tried to teach, by precept and by example. And I picked up a lesson in what pediatricians can and cannot do.

In these challenging times, it’s important to focus on the things we can control, and not fret about the things we cannot control.

One thing we can control is our behavior. With the right training, your child can return to a healthy weight and become a successful long-term weight controller.