In a recent study published in the journal BMC Public Health, a team of Australian researchers determined that government-funded investments in community-based child obesity treatment program offer the potential to produce short-term improvements in weight and weight-related behaviors. Findings from the study also demonstrated that community-based models of child obesity treatment are a promising adjunctive strategy for health services at all levels of care.
One in four Australian children aged 5–14 years are obese or overweight. Evidence indicates that screening and brief counseling in primary care settings is not effective in improving weight-related behaviors in overweight/obese children and in reducing weight. Community-based obesity treatment programs have therefore become an important response used to address child obesity; however, the majority of these programs are small efficacy trials.
MEND is a UK community-based child obesity treatment intervention designed to be scalable and delivered by a range of health professionals, which has been translated into the Australian context as Go4Fun®. Assessing its effectiveness is critical to the success of examining comprehensive population approaches to childhood obesity treatment and prevention.
In the study titled “Translational research: are community-based child obesity treatment programs scalable?” Louise L. Hardy and colleagues from the Prevention Research Collaboration, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney in Australia evaluated the short impact of a community-based obesity treatment program on children’s weight and weight-related behaviors, disseminated under real world conditions in a cohort of 2,812 participating children.
Eligible participants were aged between 6 and 15 years with a body mass index (BMI) ≥85th percentile with no co-morbidities. Children and their parents/carers participated in a twice weekly, 10-week after-school child obesity treatment program between 2009 and 2012.
Results revealed that the average attendance was 12.9 sessions. The researchers found that beneficial changes among all children included screen time (−4.8 h/week), self-esteem (+2.7units), waist circumference (−1.8 cm), BMI (−0.65 kg/m2 ), BMI-z-score (−0.11), and WtHtr (−0.02); physical activity (+1.2 days/week), and unhealthy foods index (−2.4units).
The results also showed that children who completed more than 75 % of the program were more likely to have beneficial changes in BMI, self-esteem and diet compared with children completing less that 75% of the program.
Based on the results, the researchers concluded that Go4Fun® programs demonstrated small but beneficial changes in overweight and obese children’s weight and weight-related behaviors in the short-term. Program completion was associated with greater improvements in diet, but not other weight-related behaviors. The study findings provide evidence that community-based child obesity treatment programs are an adjunctive intervention to tertiary obesity health services. However, the researches indicate the need for but long term follow-up.