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A new study by University of Maine Researchers demonstrates that the most effective treatments for combating childhood obesity are the most intensive and comprehensive programs.

Specifically, according to Dr. Douglas Nangle, Professor of Psychology and director of clinical training at the University of Maine, increasing the “dose” of behavioral interventions – the use verbal and tangible rewards, self-monitoring and stimulus control – as well parental involvement enhances the effectiveness of established diet and exercise regimes for combating childhood obesity.

The research reviewed 11 published studies on the treatment of childhood obesity conducted since 1994 and sought to identify patterns among the therapeutic components and with successful outcomes.

“Whereas meta-analyses typically examine the effectiveness of interventions versus control (i.e., no treatment) conditions, this study employed a variation of the statistical techniques to estimate whether or not modifying or adding to obesity treatments helps youth lose more weight. This statistical approach has not previously been used in social science or medical research. This is the first of its kind, in the obesity or other treatment literatures,” says Professor Nangle.

The Maine analysis demonstrated that interventions that combine diet/decreased sedentary lifestyle with increased exercise components could be made even more effective through enhanced cognitive-behavioral interventions – rewards such as praise and incentives – for meeting physical activity and dietary goals, as well as teaching children to improve their self-regulatory skills. This involved encouraging consistent self-monitoring of their eating and exercise patterns,and using techniques like stimulus control (i..e., making healthy foods more easily accessible) “

The study also found that parents can make a huge differences in effectiveness of the approach. Parents who provide nutritious foods in the home and lose weight themselves (by eating the right foods and increasing activity levels) often help their children do especially well at weight control.

The results of the Maine study have been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.