Teach ‘Em When They’re Young

Obese children respond to healthy behavioral treatments better than teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Compared to teenagers, it’s easier to get kids to break bad eating habits and start exercising. The earlier kids can learn to be healthy, the better chance they will have of staying that way.

A recent study’s findings showed that the younger kids were better at losing weight and changing bad habits than teenagers. The lead researcher said “New treatment methods must be developed. And for some young people, surgery must even be considered an option.”

This study indicates its easier to change younger children's behavior.

"Talk to a pediatrician about healthy weight loss."

Claude Marcus, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics, and Pernilla Danielsson, RN, PhD, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, led the investigation.

For the study, 643 obese and severely obese children aged 6-16 were divided into six groups and followed for 3 years between 1998 and 2006. The groups were split up by age, then weight category: 6-9, 10-13, 14-16, and then either moderately obese or severely obese.

Each child was subjected to behavioral treatment specific to obesity that included education about exercise and diet.

Doctors, nurses, dietitians, psychologists and personal trainers administered treatment on a regular basis at a childhood obesity center in a children’s hospital.

After 3 years, 44 percent had 0.5 point or greater reduction on the body mass index scale (BMI). The 14-16 year-olds in the moderately obese group were the least successful weight loss group compared to the other five. A total of 20 percent of the 10-13 year-olds and 8 percent of the 14-16 year-olds had a 0.5-point reduction in their BMI score.

In the younger severely obese group, 58 percent lost 0.5 or more points on the BMI scale. After 3 years, only 2 percent of severely obese teens lost weight.

Dr. Marcus said, “The results are indeed alarming for these severely obese adolescents run a serious risk of disease and social marginalization.”

Study authors said, “Behavioral treatment was successful for severely obese children but had almost no effect on severely obese adolescents.”

Healthy diet education and exercise habits should begin as early as possible for maximum impact.

This study was published in October in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Funding for the research was provided by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, the National Board of Health and Welfare, Stockholm Freemanson Foundation for Children’s Welfare and the Department of Clinical Sciences, Intervention and Technology at Karolinska Institutet. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 5, 2012
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013