Overweight Kids Lose More Weight When Parents Do Too

When families enroll in a weight-control treatment program, parent weight loss predicts child weight loss. Kids not only lose weight when parents do, they lose more when their parents lose more.

This finding is the result of analyzing body mass index (BMI) changes in parents and children participating in one of three family-based behavioral weight-control studies. One hundred forty-two obese children (defined in this study as BMI greater than 85 th percentile) aged 8 to 12 years old participated in the study, along with at least one parent who was not necessarily obese but whose BMI was above the 70 th percentile for adults. Most participating parents were mothers (81 percent) and most families (95 percent) were white.

Parents were asked to adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits, and to change their home environments.

Dietary changes were based on the Traffic Light Diet. This eating plan categorizes foods based on their nutritional value as “green,” “yellow,” or “red.” Green foods are low in fat and high in nutrients; eating green foods was encouraged. Yellow foods have between 2 and 5 grams of fat per serving and some nutritional value, and should be eaten in moderation. Red foods have 5 or more grams of fat per serving, lots of sugar, and little nutritional value. Families were encouraged to decrease the red foods they eat.

All families were provided with a physical activity program. In addition, families were encouraged to alter home environments to support healthy eating and physical activity habits. For example, families were asked to keep fewer red foods in the house and to have green foods readily available.

Parent and child BMI measures were taken at the beginning of the study period, and after 6, 12, and 24 months. After 2 years, results of BMI analysis showed that the amount of weight a parent lost predicted the amount of weight her or his child lost. Parents who lost the most weight had kids who lost the most weight.

Study authors reason that parents who are more successful at weight loss have made larger changes to eating and physical habits and created a healthier home environment. In addition, these parents may model more healthy behaviors

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