(RxWiki News) One method for reducing childhood obesity among the highest risk kids may be as simple as teaching parents positive parenting techniques, such as using praise and healthy discipline.
A recent study found that low-income, minority children - a group more inclined to end up obese according to research - were much less likely to be overweight if their parents had learned to be more positive.
"Positivity pays off. Compliment your kids' good behavior."
With one out of five American children qualifying as obese, the results offer another method of attack in fighting the child obesity epidemic in the U.S.
Laurie Miller Brotman, PhD, director of the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development at the NYU Child Study Center, led the study looking at whether high-risk children whose parents participating in intervention programs had lower rates of obesity.
Brotman and her colleagues followed up on a group of low-income, minority children at high risk for obesity who were enrolled in the programs ParentCorps or the "Incredible Years" when they were four years old.
The intervention programs were designed to address kids' behavioral problems - not obesity or exercise and nutrition - and included two-hour parent/child groups each week for six months.
The researchers evaluated the children's body mass index (BMI) and level of sedentary and physical activity three to five years after participation in the programs.
One study also measured children's nutritional intake and blood pressure.
This data was compared to that of children in a control group of similar demographics whose families were not part of an intervention program. The total number of children involved in the study was 186.
Brotman said children entering school with behavior problems are at higher risk for various health problems, including obesity.
Obese children are five times more likely to be obese as teens and both groups are high-risk for medical problems as well as social and academic difficulties.
Her team found that more than half the children with behavior problems in the control group were obese by second grade compared to only 24 percent of those involved with the intervention programs.
Children involved in the intervention programs also had healthier sedentary and physical activity levels.
Those whose blood pressure and nutrition was measured were found to have lower blood pressure rates and to eat fewer carbohydrates when they were teens than those in the control group.
"The correlation between obesity and childhood nurturing/comfort has been posited for many years," said LuAnn Pierce, LCSW, a therapist in private practice who works often with children. "Ask adults who have been obese since childhood, and many will tell you they soothe themselves with food."
She said positive parenting programs are usually highly effective because the skills parents learn and pass on to their children are invaluable for life.
A major part of ParentCorps is teaching parents responsive, nurturing practices toward their children and to use healthy forms of discipline to address behavioral issues, such as giving time-out instead of spanking.
"ParentCorps engages parents of high-risk children, reduces harsh and ineffective parenting and prevents early behavior problems from escalating into more serious and intractable problems," she said.
The program also encourages parents to praise children when they exhibit positive behaviors such as sharing.
"It makes sense that parents who learn how to connect with their children, and use positive parenting and discipline are better equipped to teach self-soothing and comforting skills that do not include food," Pierce said.
The study appears online in the February 6 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The study and associated trials were respectively funded by the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Foundation and grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Institute for Education Sciences.
No information was available regarding potential conflicts of interests of the authors.