Exploring Parent Education to Reduce Obesity

Reducing child obesity risk factors may be possible with specialized parenting classes

March 3, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Child obesity happens for many different reasons. These include TV time, diet, physical activity, genetics and other issues. Changing some of these may help reduce risk of obesity.

A recent study sought to find out whether special parenting classes might help reduce risk factors for obesity in babies.

The researchers found the children of parents who took the classes did drink fewer juices and soft drinks. They also ate fewer sweet snacks and watched less TV.

However, about a year later, the babies' weight and level of physical activity was not any different than that of children of parents who did not have the classes.

The experiment appeared to reduce some of the behaviors related to obesity but not others.

"Ask a pediatrician about feeding your child."

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.

During a 15-month period, half the parents were given six 2-hour sessions with dietitians, and the other half were sent six newsletters in the mail.

The dietitian sessions focused on teaching parents information and skills related to feeding, diet, physical activity and television viewing for infants. The newsletters sent to the other group dealt with issues unrelated to obesity or obesity factors.

The researchers collected information from the parents when the children were 4 months old, 9 months old and 20 months old. 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

By the end of the study, when the kids were 20 months old, the children of parents in the dietitian group ate about 4 fewer grams of sweet snacks daily and watched about 16 minutes less of TV each day, compared to the other group of children.

Overall, however, there was not much differences among the children in both groups when it came to the amount of fruits, vegetables, non-sweet snacks or water the children consumed. There was also no difference among the kids in either group in terms of physical activity and BMI.

Therefore, the intervention appeared to decrease the amount of TV children watched and the amount of sweet snacks they had. However, it didn't affect how much exercise they got or their weight.

The researchers said it's possible that the intervention (the dietitian sessions) needs to be designed differently to focus more on physical activity.

Still, more television time, more sweet snacks and more sweet drinks are all associated with a higher risk of obesity among children. These factors were lower in the group who attended the meetings.

It's just not clear whether these factors will translate to a lower risk of obesity in the children as they continue to grow up. The researchers plan to follow the children through age 5.

The study was published March 4 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia, the Heart Foundation Victoria and Deakin University. The authors had no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Review Date: 
March 3, 2013
Last Updated:
March 3, 2013