Parents considered as ‘agents of change’ in childhood obesity
MedWire News: Parents and adult caregivers of obese children should be considered as "agents of change," according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.
"In many cases, the adults in a family may be the most effective change agents to help obese children attain and maintain a healthier weight," said Myles Faith, chair of the American Heart Association's statement writing group, in a press statement. "To do so, the adults may need to modify their own behavior and try some research-based strategies."
The statement, published in Circulation, evaluates to what extent, and in what specific ways, parents and adult caregivers can help obese youth to reduce excess body fat and promote substantial behavior changes to help obese youth restore energy balance.
"These are critical questions given the global 'epidemic' of childhood obesity," say Faith et al.
Previous reviews have shown mixed conclusions, with some, but not all, finding that greater involvement leads to better child weight outcomes.
"The present statement strives to reconcile these differences while identifying critical areas for future research," comment the authors.
The research group found "limited and inconsistent evidence" from randomized controlled clinical trials that greater parent and adult caregiver involvement in treatment is associated with better child outcomes. "For example, only 17% of the intervention studies reported differential improvements in child overweight as a function of parental involvement in treatment," they say.
However, greater parental adherence with core behavior change strategies predicted better child weight outcomes after 2 and 5 years in some studies.
"Thus, the literature lacks conclusive evidence that one particular parenting strategy or approach causally is superior to others in which children have a greater focus in treatment."
The statement identifies a number of research gaps, including the assessment of refined parenting phenotypes, cultural tailoring of interventions, examination of family relationships, and incorporation of new technologies.
It also stresses the need for "innovative research" to advance the scope and potency of parental treatments for childhood obesity.
"An empirically grounded understanding of the determinants of basic parenting practices, including how parents feed their children and foster physical activity, may guide novel parenting strategies," conclude the authors.
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By Nikki Withers