What makes a successful weight management programme for children?

20 September 2017
larger mother and daughter preparing food

A review of weight management programmes for overweight children has identified three vital ingredients to ensure success.  

The review, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, examined a range of studies looking at weight management programmes for children.

They concluded there were three essential ingredients for successful interventions:

  • Practical experiences which showed participants how to change, rather than just telling them what to change.
  • Family involvement to create a shared understanding and a healthy home environment.
  • Social support to create a safe space in which to gain confidence and skills.

Looking at these three elements more closely, showing families how to change required the following:

  • The provision of physical activity sessions for children
  • The delivery of three or more practical behaviour change sessions
  • Advice on calorie intake.

The authors say inclusion of all three of these elements was vital to the success of a weight management plan.  The same success was not seen if just one or two elements were included.

Ensuring all the family were on board with weight management was also important.  Again there were three critical elements needed:

  • Delivering child-friendly sessions
  • Delivering three or more education sessions to children and parents
  • Aiming to change behaviours across the whole family.

Again, the authors say the presence of all three of these elements was vital to success.

Social support was important because it fostered motivation to attend weight management programmes.  The two crucial elements of social support were:

  • Group sessions specifically for children
  • Three or more group sessions specifically for parents.

The authors say the research highlighted the fact that families of overweight children live in an environment of bullying and stigma.

They say social support is important for children and for parents to maintain responsibility for shaping the home environment.

The authors say this research provides a more nuanced understanding about the mechanisms and features of successful weight management programmes.

They conclude that future service provision should aim to ensure that families are not just told what to change but shown how to change, that the whole family is on board with the programme, and that there are opportunities for parents and children to receive social support.