Obesity Intervention Programs Are Not Helping Kids
> 9/27/2006 10:31:06 AM

More than 70 percent of obese children will remain dangerously overweight and risk developing heart disease and diabetes if they do not shed the extra pounds by the end of adolescence, but the vast majority of programs designed to improve and maintain their health simply do not work, according to a new study released by the American Psychological Association.

The extensive report, which appears in this month's Psychological Bulletin, combines twenty-five years of meta-analysis and forty-six detailed studies on more than sixty various weight-loss programs across the country. Among its general findings: interventions focusing on multiple health issues like blood pressure and cholesterol were ultimately less successful than those designed for weight loss alone. Gender specific programs were more effective, and those administered by health care professionals worked better than those initiated by teachers. Middle and high school students saw greater benefits, as grade school students often had trouble processing and applying the relevant information. Though approximately five percent of the programs studied initially led to measurable weight loss, their effects were largely short-lived, failing to maintain their influence beyond a three year follow-up period.

Programs focused strictly on increasing physical activity and eating disorder prevention saw greater success among females, largely because of the fact that far more young women voice dissatisfaction with their bodies and their number one area of concern is, of course, body weight. Combined efforts to better regulate dietary choices and reduce the negative psychological effects of unrealistic physical ideals resulted in some of the most significant changes for the young women involved. Mandatory increases in physical education and associated dietary instruction led to greater success than either element on its own. Students who volunteered for the programs in question also saw better results. One unexpected statistic found that brief programs worked more effectively than long-term ones, presumably because students found longer commitments less attractive and frequently abandoned the programs in boredom or frustration.

These disappointing success rates are hardly unique to children and adolescents. Similar programs aimed at adults only decrease body weight by an average of ten percent, and almost all involved subjects regain the weight shortly after finishing their programs. The only definitive conclusion drawn from the study's results is that there is an immediate need for progressive test studies on enhanced programs. The current models simply do not work, and the time and money spent on these efforts can obviously be much better utilized. Developing more efficient alternate strategies is the most important task at hand. Professionals and educators should collaborate and use the findings presented in this report to design better programs and conduct careful trial studies. Repeatedly working with current techniques and hoping for greater success will not work, and the epidemic continues to grow. Greater funding and increased focus on testing the efficiency of revised programs would be, at least, a first step in dealing with the most important health problem facing our country today.

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