If it takes a village to raise a child, does it take a village to keep that child from becoming overweight? What happens when people in the community create a program aimed at children?
A recent study found that programs can be successful in combating obesity if they are large and comprehensive enough.
This study found a focus on diet and physical activity showed improvements (reductions) in the children's body mass index (BMI) and body fat. Moreover, programs that integrated schools were more effective at preventing obesity.
The study, led by Sara N. Bleich, PhD, of the Department of Healthy Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, reviewed the research available for how effective community-based obesity programs are for kids.
The researchers searched six major medical research databases to collect all the English-language studies in which an obesity program was developed in a community.
The studies had to last at least one year and had to compare groups that were and were not receiving the services being tested to reduce obesity.
The researchers found nine total studies, including one done only in the community, three in the community and school combined and five in the community as well as one other place, such as the participants' homes.
In four of the nine studies where the program included a focus on diet and physical activity, the participants showed improvements (reductions) in body mass index (BMI) and in body fat.
The BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight that is used to determine whether that person is a healthy weight.
Two other studies showed another positive behavior changes in each of them. In one, the participants increased their physical activity, and in the other, the participants increased their vegetable uptake.
The programs involved in the studies varied a great deal, but most used multiple strategies.
Several involved health education and family outreach, and the most successful ones involved more than one location.
For example, one of the successful studies involved 1,178 children in first through third grades attending public school.
The program these children were enrolled in focused on boosting physical activity opportunities and healthy food before, after and during school.
The more successful programs also tended have larger numbers of participants, a longer follow-up time and a focus on children in middle school or younger.
The researchers concluded that a community program that targets obesity with diet and physical activity and pairs up with a school is likely to be more effective at preventing obesity than other community-based program.
The study was published June 10 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the US Department of Health and Human Services and by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.