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Childhood Obesity: Does Targeting Parents Work?

sharma-obesity-active-kidsIt is now widely recommended that addressing childhood obesity requires a whole-family approach with a focus on educating and helping parents provide a healthier environment for their children. This has sometimes resulted in the slogan, “treat the parents”.

But just how effective is this approach?

Now a study by Gisela Nyberg and colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, published in the International Journal of Behaviour, Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggests that even this strategy may not be quite as effective as one would hope.

The study was designed to study the effectiveness of a universal parental support programme to promote health behaviours and prevent overweight and obesity in 6-year-old children in disadvantaged areas in Stockholm.

The cluster-randomised controlled trial involved 31 school classes with 378 six-year-old children. The 6 month interventions were 1) Health information for parents, 2) Motivational Interviewing with parents and 3) Teacher-led classroom activities with children.

Overall, while there was some effect of the intervention on eating behaviour, there was no overall impact on physical activity levels.

There was also no change in BMI for the whole group, although there was small drop in BMI in kids at the higher range of the BMI spectrum, which disappeared at 5-months post-intervention.

The authors grasp at the fact that the effects of the intervention were short-lived to recommend that the programme needs to be prolonged and/or intensified in order to obtain stronger and sustainable effects.

Just how much longer or how much more intense the intervention would need to be is unclear.

These findings certainly reflect the real-life problem that we currently have no universally effective approach to dealing with childhood obesity (with parents or without).

Sadly, no one has yet demonstrated that any type of intervention for childhood obesity, whether individual, family, shool or community based, despite occasional short-term improvements in health behaviours and body weight, ultimately translates into fewer adults with obesity.

Perhaps, the best time to intervene to prevent childhood obesity is even before the kids are born.

Edmonton, AB


  1. Yes!!! Indeed, as a parent (who was obese for 40 years, normal weight 4 years), targeting me does help. I take full responsibility for the fast food awfulness and the 100 calorie bags of chips I gave my daughter while I was struggling myself. She did not have a good role model until she was 12.

    Now I cook 98% of my meals at home (more eat outs for my teenaged daughter- she’s more under the influence of friends and Starbucks and Jamba Juice). But yes, targeting me means I start her out with eggs, cheese, whole fruit, veggies in her omelette. Good proteins, pre-made salads.

    At 15, she has to make her own choices about what she puts in her body. So 50% my influence, 50% her choices, I figure. Better late than never for us both, but as the wage earner and grocery buyer, I have a great deal of influence. Hard to compete with the food industry sugar suppliers, but I know by taking care of myself, that the message will not be totally lost.

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    • Dissapointing, but I don’t think they really treated the patients with the right tools. I am not optimistic about paed obesity interventions, but I think we could do more with the parents and maybe we would see greater results. We can’t give up, but we need to put resources into strategies that are well thought out and not the same old interventions.

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