Teenage girls deemed 'at risk' for obesity can be treated by using psychotherapy treatment to prevent excessive weight gain, say researchers.
The study, conducted by scientists at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the National Institutes of Health, found that the girls who participated in Interpersonal Psychotherapy might be better able to prevent their BMI from increasing over the course of a year compared to girls who took traditional health education classes.
Led by Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, the researchers aimed to target youth considered at high-risk of obesity because they were already above average weight and because they reported episodes of loss of control eating or binge eating.
Both higher weight and loss of control eating are linked to excessive weight gain in children and young people.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on improving interpersonal relationships by targeting the underlying social and interpersonal difficulties that influence individuals to engage in loss of control eating.
The therapy has been shown to help both depressed adults and youth and, also to help tackle binge eating in adults.
In adult studies, decreases in binge eating may lead to modest weight loss and less regain over time compared with those who continue to binge eat. Thus, decreasing binge eating is an attractive target for preventing obesity in at-risk youth.
"We conducted this study to address the dramatically increased rates of obesity in children and adolescents. IPT for Binge Eating Disorder is based on the assumption that binge eating occurs in response to poor social functioning and the consequent negative moods," said Tanofsky-Kraff.
Thirty-eight girls, some with and others without loss of control eating, were selected for the trial, and were randomly designated to attend either IPT sessions or standard health education classes currently taught to teenagers.
All the girls completed their courses and received follow up visits for the next year.
Girls who undertook IPT were more likely to stabilize or reduce their BMI than those who received the health education classes.
"This pilot study has demonstrated that IPT is both feasible and acceptable to adolescent girls at risk of adult obesity and suggests that it may prevent excess weight gain. If IPT proves to be effective, we may be able to prevent not only excessive weight gain, but the development of related adverse health conditions in a subset of susceptible youth," concluded Tanofsky-Kraff.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.