Risk of Childhood Obesity Unchanged After Nutrition Class

Parents who are looking to reduce the chance of obesity in their children are getting a little help from a new study that looks at the common causes for obesity in kids. Specifically, the researchers wanted to find out how much the risk factors could be ameliorated if the families went through a simple parenting class that taught them the basics of good childhood nutrition.

It turns out that the class helped — to some degree. Among families where parents took the class, children consumed less juice and other sugary drinks, spent less time in front of the television and got fewer calories from sweet non-nutritional snacks. However, although the changes were positive, unless they came with an increase in physical activity, they had no impact on children’s weight at all.

The study, led by Karen J. Campbell, PhD, of the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Australia, aimed to see whether a program with first-time parents might reduce behaviors that are known to be linked to child obesity later. The researchers included 542 parents and their babies, at an average age of 4 months, in the study.

Half the parents were put in touch with a registered dietitian for 6 two-hour sessions lasting over 15 months. In class, they were taught facts about good diet, optimal level of physical activity, and about restricting television viewing for young kids.

The other half of the parents were instead sent an occasional newsletter through the post that didn’t contain information about obesity, fitness of nutrition of any kind. Subsequently, researchers looked at how the children were doing after four months, nine months and then 20 months from commencement of the study.

They gathered information about the children’s diet based on what had been eaten in the past 24 hours and the children’s physical activity based on activity monitors the children wore. The researchers also gathered information from the parents on their children’s television viewing time and the kids’ body mass index scores (BMI). BMI is a ratio of a child’s height and weight used to determine if they are a healthy weight. When the kids were 9 months old, the researchers found that the children of parents in the dietitian group drank fewer fruit juices and soft drinks and were generally about half as likely to have these drinks at all as compared to the children of parents in the newsletter group

The conclusions reached at the end of the study were that although classes with a nutritionist worked to reduce some of the harmful habits that typically lead to childhood obesity – like amount of juices drunk and hours of TV watched – there were no changes to behaviors that might have had an even bigger impact such as increase in physical activity and exercise.