A new food education programme for parents improves kids' lifestyles.
Educating parents on healthy lifestyle may help get their overweight children off the couch and moving more, a small study suggests.
In a pilot study testing a programme called Families for Health, UK researchers found benefits for both children and their parents. The children, who were all overweight or obese at the study's start, became less sedentary and managed to lose some weight.
Their parents, meanwhile, reported improvements in their relationships with their children, and in their own mental well-being.
The success suggests that the programme should now be tested in a larger study, the researchers report in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The findings also highlight the importance of the parent-child relationship in combating childhood obesity, according to the researchers, led by Wendy Robertson of Warwick Medical School in Coventry.
The Families for Health programme differs from other childhood obesity programmes currently being researched in the UK in its emphasis on parenting and relationship skills, the researchers write.
The 21 families in the study attended weekly sessions at a community centre over 12 weeks. The children, who ranged in age from 7 to 13, played games that kept them physically active, learned about healthy eating and had time to discuss the "emotional aspects" of their lives with each other - including any problems they faced in dealing with their weight.
Parents learned how to encourage healthy eating in a positive way - by filling the kitchen with healthy food choices and improving their own diets, for example. They were also taught how to consistently enforce family rules and build their children's self-esteem.
At the end of the 3-month programme, the children's average body mass index (BMI) had dipped and they were more active in their daily lives - as measured by a step counter the children wore over one week. They were also eating less junk food.
The improvements were still present 6 months later, Robertson and her colleagues found.
The researchers are continuing to follow the group, looking at whether the programme still makes a difference after two years.
"Giving parents the main responsibility for the behaviour change in the family," they note, "is central to the success of the Families for Health pilot and may enhance long term sustainability."