While it has long been assumed that obese children can be encouraged to get back to shape if they are provided with a little bit of health information, scientists have now found that mere sharing of information may in fact worsen kids' weight status.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say that children need interventions that provide them with more active guidance and strategies to help them make behavioural changes, which may help them get back to shape.
"Providers make the assumption that providing information leads to changes. Providing information is a necessary component, but it's not sufficient," said lead study author Dr. Denise Wilfley, professor in the department of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The researchers analysed 14 studies involving 527 young children, adolescents and teenagers, and found that an "active" treatment involved "any combination of diet, physical activity or behavioural treatment recommendations." They say that the sessions varied widely from family counselling sessions on diet, to child-only physical training sessions, to diet and exercise combinations.
Some children in the studies had participated in active treatment programs with an average of about 18 sessions, while others had no treatment or were offered educational sessions only.
The researchers found that the children who had participated in treatment programs experienced an eight to nine per cent reduction in weight status, which is the child's weight in relation to various factors such as age and height. On the other hand, there was a 2.1 percent increase in weight status among the children without treatment or with education only.
Dr. Wilfley, however, has cautioned against confusing the term 'weight loss' with getting into better shape by saying that if a child does not gain or lose weight but grows taller, he is still making strides toward getting into better shape.
She says that getting into shape is a matter of eating less and exercising more, but children are typically drawn to food like hamburgers, fried chicken and pizzas being offered in school cafeterias.
"The cultural context is not supportive of managing your weight," she said.
Brian Saelens, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, has expressed worries over findings that children actually get worse if given only a little information.
He says that with little information in hand, children sometimes try to make changes in eating habits on their own, but their efforts can backfire.
"My guess is that they try something, but they don't get the support," he said.
The study has been published in the journal Health Psychology.