Home-based weight management benefits children and parents, study shows

An in-home weight management program improved the health of not only the child, but also the child's parents, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The study looked at a new Developing Relationships that Include Values of Eating and Exercise (DRIVE) curriculum, developed by researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The researchers recruited 16 families from the community based on the child's obesity risk. Children 2-6 years old with a body mass index greater than the 75th percentile enrolled. Families were randomly assigned to receive health information only or the DRIVE intervention.

The DRIVE curriculum was provided during 15 in-person sessions in the family's home. Sessions were 30 minutes long, during which parents and children practiced healthy daily routines, including establishing regular snack and mealtimes, reducing screen time, and encouraging physically active play. Each session focused on a single health topic such as portion size, food preparation, how to discuss weight and growth concerns with the pediatrician, and effective parenting strategies. The group that did not receive in-home visits was mailed information on nutrition, physical activity, and parent-child interaction at the beginning of the study.

According to the study abstract, children in the DRIVE intervention maintained their body weight with a modest reduction in body mass index over the 19 weeks of the study, while the children who received health education significantly decreased their body weight and body mass index. Additionally, parents who participated in the DRIVE sessions also decreased their body weight.

Obese children are four times more likely to become obese adults, making childhood obesity a significant health threat, researchers said. The DRIVE curriculum mitigated weight gain in at-risk children as well as prompting their parents to lose weight.

The study also reported that all 16 families completed the program. This level of participation is much higher than programs delivered through clinics or community programs, which can see as many as 75 percent of attendees leave the classes, researchers said. There are many federal and state services already being provided through home-based visitation programs and researchers said this curriculum could be a valuable addition to those efforts.