Too little, too late

It’s shocking to me that I even have to write about something as completely avoidable as childhood obesity.

But facts are facts. We live in a world where more than a third of all children are overweight or obese. So obviously, it’s a problem that requires some serious attention.

It’s also a problem that’s heightened at this time of year, due to whatever holiday (or holidays) you choose to celebrate. (I personally celebrate them all. Why not, really?)

So many parents want their children not to feel deprived. “Christmas is only once a year,” they say. Or “I can’t control what my children do when I’m not with them.”

The excuses are endless. But bad nutrition is one slippery slope you don’t want to slide down. And this is especially true for little ones.

In my first book, Feed Your Kids Well, I talked about the value of dietary interventions as early as infancy. (Even during pregnancy, as is the case with many of my patients.)

Bottom line, I’ve always believed that you can never teach proper eating habits too early. And two new studies have recently emerged as a tribute to that belief.

In the first study, researchers randomly assigned obese children ages 3 to 5 to one of two groups for 16 weeks.

The first group followed an interesting and intense approach to weight loss. It was a multidisciplinary intervention that consisted of 25 sessions for a total of 30 hours.

It included dietary advice–six 30-minute dietician-guided sessions in total–and physical activity for both children and parents. It even offered psychological counseling, along with tips for proper role modeling and motivation, to the parents.

The second group received “usual care”–in the form of three 30- to 60-minute long visits with a pediatrician. During these visits, the children received information on healthy eating and standard exercise recommendations.

Not surprisingly, children who participated in the intensive, whole-family intervention fared better. They enjoyed a bigger drop in both BMI and waist circumference scores than children who received usual care.

If you ask me, this is solid evidence that perhaps it really does take a village.

The second study followed 643 obese children between the ages of 6 and 16 for three years.

Researchers designed a treatment “to help patients, with the support of their parents, to adopt healthier eating habits, to become more physically active, and to reduce the time spent in sedentary activities.”

As to be expected, the shorter amount of time the child had poor eating habits, the easier it was to lose and maintain weight. Intervention was more effective for the younger kids than the older ones.

In fact, 20 percent of the moderately obese 10- to 13-year-olds finished the study with a lower BMI, compared to just 8 percent of the kids aged 14 to 16. Meanwhile, 58 percent of the severely obese children lost significant weight. That number dropped to a mere 2 percent among severely obese teens.

Both of these studies appeared in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. And it seems they got some attention, too.

In response to these “new” findings, the brainiacs at Harvard offered up these “groundbreaking” behavioral recommendations for kids under 5 years old: