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Children with obesity need the acceptance of family and friends, not just better nutrition tips, to successfully manage their weight

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from Amanda Harrist, Oklahoma State University and Laura Hubbs-Tait, Oklahoma State University

Hundreds of programs over the past four decades – on junk food removal School machines to Michelle Obama’s “let’s go“Campaign – Attempted to encourage children in the United States to eat healthily and exercise more often.

But none of these efforts lowered national child obesity rates. Indeed, childhood obesity has continued to rise. This was especially true during the pandemic.

We think we know why. Most programs aimed at lowering the body mass index (BMI) of children focus on eating healthy and exercising. But as an obesity researcher in children that focus on human development and Family science, we know that losing weight requires a lot more than just paying attention to diet and exercise.

These factors are important, but we have found that acceptance by family and friends also plays a critical role in slowing weight gain in children with obesity.

To reach this conclusion, we worked with colleagues to guide nearly 1,200 first through fourth grade children in rural Oklahoma to learn more about the lives of children who are overweight or obese. Our intervention programs allowed us to compare a traditional diet and exercise approach to treating childhood obesity with approaches that also targeted the social and emotional aspects of children’s lives.

Acceptance from family and peers

We did a randomized controlled trial in 29 schools in Oklahoma. More than 500 first graders at risk of obesity – that is, their BMI was above the 75th percentile – were placed in either a control group or a group that received a combination of three interventions.

These interventions focused on family lifestyle, family dynamics, and peer group.

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The family lifestyle intervention focused on healthy eating and physical activity. Participants learned a color-coded guide to food similar to how. to use This one here in the choice of dishes. Parents tracked their children’s food consumption and physical activity and also learned how to avoid conflict while eating. This conflict can involve arguing about how much the child is eating, whether they can have dessert, or whether the child has eaten enough of everything else on the table to get a second helping of their favorite meal.

The family dynamics intervention added Parenting ability and healthy emotion management. Emotional regulation of children and emotional eating are essentially relatedso teaching children how to manage their emotions can reduce their tendency to eat when they are stressed or upset. The children were taught to deal with negative emotions, to express their feelings and to appreciate their uniqueness. Parents were taught to value their children’s emotions, offer comfort and understanding, support children’s problem-solving, and accept their children for who they are.

The peer group intervention taught social acceptance in the children’s school classes. Our research has shown that the more children weigh, the more their classmates weigh tend not to like them. But we have also proven that we can reduce the rejection This is done in elementary school classes by teaching children to be more accepting of one another.

Effect on obesity

We measured the height and weight of the children at the beginning of the first grade, and then after the intervention – in the first, second, third, and fourth grades. Only the obese children who received all three interventions – family life, family dynamics, and peer group – had significant decreases BMI gains compared to the control group.

The ongoing analysis shows that the peer group intervention was particularly important for severely obese children, with a BMI in the 99th percentile.

Our results show that children need more than a healthy diet and physical activity to reduce BMI gains in the early years of school. They need parents who support their healthy choices and accept their emotions. Knowing that you can come home and talk about how angry and sad you are is essential to healthy growth, both physically and mentally. And children also need to have friends and peers who accept them for who they are – no matter how much they weigh.The conversation

Amanda Harrist, Professor of Human Development and Family Science, Oklahoma State University and Laura Hubbs-Tait, Professor of Human Development and Family Science, Oklahoma State University

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.


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