There has been a great deal of research on which programs and therapies have the best chance at helping a child who is overweight to lose weight and sustain that weight loss. Certainly a program that includes a diet, coupled with some type of behavioral therapy is considered a good approach. Another program type involves the whole family - parents and child (children) in order to create a home environment and family food policies that support weight loss and better health. Well, a new study reveals that just working with the parents of an obese child as a "parent-only treatment" may work equally well when compared to plans or programs that involve parent and child. This type of plan may also be more cost effective and easier on families.
Researchers at UC San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego set out to assess whether just working with parents was a viable way to help offspring deal with ongoing obesity issues. With 31% of children in the US overweight or obese, that translates to 4 or 5 million children struggling with this chronic disease. Parents are the most significant individuals in a child's life and they serve as the first and most important teachers and models of behavior. Obviously instilling better nutrition and exercise knowledge and habits in a parent's life seems a viable way to have children benefit from a lifestyle perspective, and the study showed that indeed it is not necessary to involve the children in this portion of the therapy. If a child is already spending long hours in school and then has homework and after-school activities, it can make sense to put the emphasis on educating the parents and then having them bring home and implement what they've learned
Clearly in many cases the parents themselves may be struggling with weight issues or with trying to shift to healthier habits. So if the kitchen and specifically the foods in the refrigerator and pantry are swapped for mostly healthier choice, the whole family will only have those foods to choose from. Since parents do the shopping, they should certainly have education that supports the best choices, coupled with other tools to support weight loss and better health. They can then slowly impart to the kids, through discussion and interactions, the reasons why these dietary changes are taking place. They can also determine the best way to involve the child and the pacing needed for their individual offspring. Parents can easily get the kids involved with fun taste testing experiences, menu planning, food shopping, portion measuring, and recipe selections. Again, the child can participate in these different opportunities with the parent as the model and family leader. So it makes sense that the parents, if motivated, should make the initial integration in the program, sans kids. It may also allow for an easier and faster education process to occur, which translates into more dollars saved
If you're interested, many university hospitals and teaching hospitals across the nation now offer programs for parents. Religious institutions and even schools are also seeing the value of offering parents nutrition edification that can then be supported by healthier school lunch programs. My book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, explores this approach of parents as family team captains, leading the whole family to better health through better lifestyle choices.