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Parent-Only Treatment For Childhood Obesity?

I have previously suggested that to prevent and treat childhood obesity, interventions need to focus on the parents and not the kids.

Now a randomised controlled study by Kerri Boutelle and colleagues from the Universities of California and Minnesota, published online in OBESITY, confirms that the parent-only approach to treating childhood obesity is at least as, if not more, effective than parent-and-child strategies.

The researchers randomised 80 parent-child pairs with an 8-12 year old overweight or obese child to 5 months of either a parent-only (PO) or parent + child (PC) treatment for childhood obesity. Parents in the PO group were coached on how to assist their children in weight monitoring at home and reflect on the behaviors that influenced weight. The material taught in the child groups of the PC arm was similar in content to that taught to the parents, but presented in an age-appropriate manner (i.e., fun games). PC treatment was delivered in 60-min separate child and parent groups, while PO treatment was delivered in 60-min parent groups.

Both at post-treatment and at 6-months follow-up PO treatment were as successful as PC treatment both in terms of child weight loss and physical activity.

The authors conclude that a PO treatment could provide similar results to PC in child weight loss and other relevant outcomes, and would likely be more cost-effective and easier to disseminate.

Despite these results, it is not quite what I meant, when I said, “treat the parents to manage childhood obesity”. I literally meant treating the parents themselves for their obesity, as a result of which, they would be better able to deal with their kids’ obesity. The approach described in this study is more like counseling active drug addicts on how to reduce drug use in their kids.

Over the next few days, I will be attending the 3rd Conference on Recent Advances in the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood & Adolescent Obesity, in Hamilton Ontario. I wonder if this approach will find any takers.

Montreal, Quebec

Boutelle KN, Cafri G, & Crow SJ (2010). Parent-Only Treatment for Childhood Obesity: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) PMID: 20966907


  1. Hi Arya,
    I like the idea of reducing the focus solely on the child, but I’m not sure what the “parent-only” approach implicate…
    Would still have to define what is a “parent”.
    I assume myself with my obsession with the social gradient :o), but if I referred us to Statistics Canada, in 2006 and 2007 a family with a father as a single parent earning a salary of $ 49.600 [median income]/2006 and 48 500$/2007 As if the single parent is a woman that income goes to $23.600/2006 and $24.400/2007 …. It double for men… At the risk of repeating myself maybe we should redefine the term “family” …
    Thank you for submitting this article to our attention.
    Nathalie 😀
    For ref Stat Can =>

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  2. Dr. Sharma:

    I think this is very helpful when it comes to obesity as a stand-alone concern, but given that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia often arise in a context where a parent is known by the child to be very preoccupied with her (what I’ve read has mainly to do with mothers but I’m assuming something similar could happen with a father) weight and shape. So, if the parent-only approach does work to resolve the most predominant child obesity problems, how does something get built into parent communication/education and for lack of a better term role modelling, to reinforce not ending up with preoccupation/deprivation as the next problem?



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  3. Thanks for this article. The perception of childhood vs adult obesity (and willingness to support public funding for treatment) is very different between these 2 groups. Perhaps one way to improve the willingness of funding agencies to support effective adult obesity treatment is to show the generational link between parents and kids. It seems intuitive, but are you aware of any research that shows that by treating the obese parent, the children also benefits significantly in terms of overall health and wt.?


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