Tackling Childhood Obesity with mHealth: New Study

From a public health perspective, childhood obesity in the United States has long been a cause for concern. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, childhood obesity rates have “more than tripled since the 1970s,” and, today, about one in five school-aged children has been classified as obese. For young people, obesity carries increased risks of a variety of health conditions, including asthma and heart disease, along with putting them at higher risk of being bullied. Now, one team of researchers is hoping to combat obesity in young people via mHealth. As mHealth Intelligence first reported, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), working in collaboration with Harvard Vanguard, developed an intervention that had positive results for children and families alike by using technology to connect people to community resources—a crucial component of weight-loss programs. Said MGH General Pediatrics Chief Dr. Elsie Taveras, who co-authored the study, in a press release, “More and more we recognize that, if we don’t assist families in tackling the social and environmental conditions that impede their ability to make changes to their obesity-related behaviors, we will not be successful in pediatric weight management.”

The two-year study, the results of which were published in JAMA Pediatrics, involved 721 Boston-area children who had been classified as obese or overweight. Participants were divided into two groups; while both were provided with educational materials and guidelines for parents, one group also received regular test messages from program coordinators that offered additional tips and links to community-based resources. That group also had regular consultations via phone, via videoconference, or in person with program coaches. The verdict? Results from both groups showed improved body mass index (BMI) in children participating; further, the program helped to empower parents, who reported that, more than before, they felt “that they had the information and resources to address their child’s weight problem,” per the MGH press release. Among those who had received the extra interventions, parents also “reported significant improvements in the child’s health-related quality of life.”

For the MGH/Harvard Vanguard researchers, the study’s results are a clear indication that a “multi-pronged approach” was particularly useful when it came to combating obesity in young people. “Our findings are pretty conclusive that there are three aspects of interventions for childhood obesity that work: improving clinical practices for obesity management; engaging and supporting families in behavior change; and linking families to community resources for further support,” Taveras noted in the MGH press release. She and her team next are planning to conduct further studies on obesity prevention and treatment involving younger children and pregnant women.

Click here to read the mHealth Intelligence article on the MGH/Harvard Vanguard study.

Click here for the press release from MGH on the mHealth/childhood obesity study.


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