Oct 30 Weight-loss programs can help even very
young children slim down, and it appears that acting early may
improve the odds of success, according to two European studies.
Excessive pounds in childhood often stay into adulthood,
where they have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and other
In one study, which appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics &
Adolescent Medicine, scientists in the Netherlands found that
heavy three- to five-year-olds saw continued benefits from a
weight-loss intervention at least several months after it ended.
A report from Sweden showed that overweight and obese
children under 10 were much more likely to have slower weight
gain than were adolescents getting similar behavioral
"What they are showing is a pretty consistent trend that if
we were to intervene early, we could really have an effect on
changing the trajectory of weight gain in children," said Elsie
Taveras, a pediatrician at Harvard Medical School and Boston
Children's Hospital, who co-wrote an editorial on the findings.
Taveras said there is mounting evidence that paying
attention to young kids may be a promising way to stem the
global obesity epidemic. In 2008, more than a third of U.S.
youths were either overweight or obese, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers have also been on the rise in Europe, although
they are lower than in the United States.
The Dutch researchers, led by Gianni Bocca of Beatrix
Children's Hospital in Groningen, studied 75 heavy children who
had been randomly assigned to either usual care or an intensive
weight-loss program. The program lasted four months and involved
25 sessions with dietary advice, exercise and, for the parents,
A year after the study began, children in the intervention
group had gained 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lbs) on average, and those
who got usual care had added another 3 kg (6.8 lbs).
While that difference could have been due to chance, there
was a statistically reliable difference in body mass index
(BMI), a measure of height in relation to weight.
Children in the intervention group went down one unit in
BMI, while the others saw no change.
"The magnitude of the effect, especially initially after the
intervention, wasn't very large, but what needs to be taken into
account was that these children were growing," Taveras said.
"What these interventions are showing is that you can have
an effect, and hopefully these interventions are changing the
trajectory these children were headed towards."
She cautioned, though, that the Swedish findings, in a study
led by Pernilla Danielsson of Karolinska Institutet in
Stockholm, were based on observations instead of an experiment.
That means it's possible that the children between 14 and
16, who saw no or little effect of the behavioral treatment,
could have been particularly tough cases.
Still, Taveras said, there is good evidence that heavy
children who start weight-loss programs early have an easier
time slimming down.
"I hope that in a few years there will be more examples of
programs that aren't just clinical that we can send families
to," she said.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies)