The study has revealed that a book including specific healthy lifestyle and weight management guidance can help obese kids lose weight.
During the study, the researchers recruited obese females between 9 to 13 years of age, who were already in a comprehensive weight loss program and made them read an age-appropriate novel called Lake Rescue (Beacon Street Press).
The book was carefully crafted with the help of pediatric experts to include specific healthy lifestyle and weight management guidance as well as positive messages and strong role models.
Six months later, the Duke researchers led by Alexandra C. Russell, MD, a fourth-year medical student, found the 31 girls who read Lake Rescue experienced a significant decrease in their BMI scores (-.71%) when compared to a control group of 14 girls who hadn't (+.05%).
"As a pediatrician, I can't count the number of times I tell parents to buy a book that might provide useful advice, yet I've never been able to point to research to back up my recommendations," said Sarah Armstrong, MD, director of Duke's Healthy Lifestyles Program where the research took place.
"This is the first prospective interventional study that found literature can have a positive impact on healthy lifestyle changes in young girls," she added.
Obesity is becoming more prevalent in children, according to the CDC, which reports that 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, a number that has tripled since 1980.
Researchers are looking at a variety of ways to help kids stay healthy, lose weight and be more active, but Armstrong says, "most don't work very well. The weight loss options that are effective typically involve taking powerful medications with side effects, or require permanent surgical procedures."
The idea that a book can positively influence weight loss and decrease BMI is "encouraging because it's fairly easy to implement," she added. "And it's a welcome addition to a world where there aren't a lot of alternatives.
The study was presented at the Obesity Society's annual scientific meeting.