Teens OK with community-based weight loss program

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Community-based programs could offer an acceptable way for overweight and obese teens to trim down, Australian researchers report.

Research to date on weight-loss programs for adolescents has typically focused on intensive, costly efforts based in specialist centers, Dr. Louise Baur of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney and colleagues note in the medical journal Nutrition & Dietetics. “There is a need for the development and evaluation of interventions which operate at a sustainable intensity in accessible, community-based settings,” they write.

Young people may be reluctant to participate in school-based weight management programs, Baur and her team add, and community health centers could offer an acceptable alternative.

To investigate, the researchers enrolled 22 overweight and obese adolescents in the “Loozit” program, which included seven group sessions held at a community health center. The first four of the 75-minute sessions were held weekly, and then at two, four and five months afterwards. Goals included eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking water as the main beverage, getting an hour of physical activity daily, and cutting down on TV and computer time. Sessions also addressed building self-esteem and coping with stress.

After the program, average waist circumference for the study participants was reduced from 100 centimeters to 97 centimeters, while levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol had increased. Participants also reported improvements in two measures of self-esteem: their physical appearance and romantic appeal.

While parents said their children were choosing healthier foods and getting more exercise, there was actually no change in participants’ average levels of physical activity or the amount of time they spent being sedentary, and no change in average body mass index (BMI).

Twenty participants completed the program. Study participants and their parents reported high levels of satisfaction with the program, and said they would have preferred to have more sessions.

“The Loozit study demonstrates for the first time that it is feasible to perform measurement assessments and retain overweight and obese adolescents to a weight management program based in a community setting,” Baur and her team state. They plan to conduct a proper clinical trial of a version of the program, incorporating suggestions for improvement from the study participants.

SOURCE: Nutrition & Dietetics, June 2008.