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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Four months of weekly group discussions and physical activity sessions helped overweight teens lose weight and keep some of it from coming back, in a new study.
The changes - seven or eight pounds, on average - were "modest," but the study program represents one of the few weight-loss strategies shown to be successful among adolescents, researchers said.
"There's not a lot of evidence (for programs that work) among this group," said Geoff Ball, director of the Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health at the University of Alberta in Canada, who was not involved in this study.
Teens are considered a tough group to work with on weight loss because they have more liberty in making choices about what they eat and how they spend their time than younger kids.
"At the same time, they don't have the same cognitive maturity as adults, so it's harder for them to make positive choices," said Elissa Jelalian, one of the authors of the study from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
So Jelalian's group designed a weight-loss program aimed at teenagers and tracked the participants for two years to see how well it worked.
The program involved 16 weekly group meetings, where 118 obese teens learned about appropriate eating, exercise and strategies to make healthy choices easier.
They were asked to keep their diet to 1400 to 1600 calories per day and to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days.
Once a week the teens, all 13 to 16 years old, also participated in physical activity programs.
Half of the group took aerobics classes, which included activities like relay races or dancing. The other half took part in an adventure-based program that involved mental and physical challenges, such as navigating through a maze or climbing over logs using ropes.
At the beginning of the study, the teens weighed an average of 187 pounds.
By the end of the four-month program, that had dropped to 181 pounds among teens in the aerobics group and 179 in those who went through the adventure-based classes.
Two years after the study began, and more than a year and a half after the weight-loss program ended, kids' weight had crept back up, but some of them got taller as well. Improvements in body mass index - a measure of weight relative to height - pretty much held steady, the researchers reported Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Although the teens remained overweight, the improvements were typical for interventions to help obese patients shed pounds, Ball told Reuters Health.
"People might want the weight loss we see on The Biggest Loser, but that's not what they get," he said.
The study didn't measure whether kids' weight changes resulted in any health benefits, such as a reduction in their chance of developing diabetes. But Ball said adults who lose a similar or slightly higher percentage of weight usually see metabolic improvements.
Another group-based weight-loss program for teens that was developed by Australian researchers, which involved seven weekly meetings and close to two years of quarterly sessions, also saw a reduction in body size of at least five percent in close to half of participants (see Reuters Health report of February 9, 2012).
Jelalian's program has not been tested in other settings to see whether it could work in, say, parks and recreation departments or schools.
"The challenge is to take some of these key concepts and figure out how to make them deliverable where teens already are," Jelalian told Reuters Health.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, online July 2, 2012.