Household Intervention Changes Behaviour But Not Body Weight

When it comes to weight management (especially in kids), the consensus appears to be that lifestyle changes are easier to implement and more effective when they target whole households.

But do household interventions really change behaviour?

This question was now addressed by Simone French and colleagues from the University of Minnesota in a paper just published online in OBESITY.

In this one-year study, the researchers randomised 99 households an intervention consisting of six face-to-face group sessions, placement of a TV-locking device on all home TVs, and home-based intervention activities, or to a control group.

While the interventions households did not report any changes in the frequency of meals eaten at fast food restaurants, or intake of fruits and vegetables or sugar-sweetened beverages, there were significant (albeit modest) reductions in frequency of consumption of sweets and snack foods and in dollars spent eating out.

TV viewing decreased by about 30 mins per day in intervention households with significant reductions reported during meals.

Adults in intervention households reported walking around 10 extra minutes per day and about 15 extra minutes of moderate/vigorous physical activity per day. No changes in physical activities were seen in adolescents.

Weekly self-weight increased from 50 to 70%.

As would perhaps be expected from these rather modest effects on lifestyle, no changes in body weight were noted.

Thus, as the authors point out, targeting households can improve some health-related behaviours, however, the duration of the intervention and follow-up may be too short to say whether these changes (if maintained) will in the end lead to prevention of weight loss.

Thus, while the study supports the idea of targeting households for behaviour change, it also reminds us that healthier behaviours alone do not necessarily translate into weight loss.

As often in these type of studies, the authors fail to mention the actual cost of the intervention or the likelihood of such interventions being feasible and effective outside the context of a research trial.

Certainly, most readers will appreciate that it probably takes more to lose and maintain a lower body weight than to simply eat healthier and watch less TV.

But then again, who ever said that weight alone was a good measure of health?

Edmonton, Alberta

French SA, Gerlach AF, Mitchell NR, Hannan PJ, & Welsh EM (2011). Household Obesity Prevention: Take Action-a Group-Randomized Trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) PMID: 21212771