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Effectiveness of lifestyle intervention in overweight children

  • Thomas Reinehr (a1)

Therapy of choice in obese children and adolescents is lifestyle intervention based on nutrition education, behavioural treatment and exercise treatment. Its efficacy even after the end of intervention has been proven by several randomised-controlled trials and meta-analyses including a recent Cochrane review. However, randomised-controlled trials are likely to overestimate the effectiveness. Studies under normal day-to-day circumstances demonstrated only a very moderate effect on weight loss (<10% success rate 2 years after the onset of intervention). A reduction of >0·5 SDS-BMI (which means a stable weight over 1 year in growing children) is associated with an improvement of cardiovascular risk factors, while improvements of quality of life seem independent of the degree of weight loss. Younger children and less overweight children particularly profit from lifestyle interventions in contrast to extremely obese adolescents. Recent studies demonstrated that involving parents is crucial for success, suggesting that parents and children and not children alone should be the primary target of interventions. Failures in weight reduction are attributed not only to a lack of motivation but also to other aspects particular to the genetic background. The techniques, more than the contents, of an intervention influence the treatment outcome. Besides behavioural therapy, systemic and solution-focused treatments are important. Future longitudinal research should focus on the identification of which children and adolescents profit from which kind of intervention, in order to be able to tailor specific treatment approaches. Studies under normal day-to-day circumstances are necessary to prove the benefit of this kind of intervention.

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Corresponding author: Professor Thomas Reinehr, fax +49 2363 975 218, email:
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