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Multidisciplinary treatment helps young children to maintain a healthy body weight

18 November 2013

Intensive treatment for overweight children between 3 and 5 years old has lasting benefits in terms of weight loss and decreasing waist circumference. The type of multidisciplinary treatment in question is not aimed just at the child, but at the entire family. This is the conclusion of research conducted by paediatrician Gianni Bocca of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) after studying 75 overweight children between 3 and 5 years of age. He will be awarded a PhD for his research by the University of Groningen on 20 November 2013.

Obesity among children is on the increase world-wide and effective treatment strategies have become vital. Although programmes with multidisciplinary interventions aimed at changing lifestyle in the 5-12 age group are proving effective for weight loss, obesity often begins before children reach the age of 5. Programmes for treating obese preschool children are therefore essential. Very young children with obesity risk being fat for the rest of their lives.

Multidisciplinary treatment programme

In his research, Bocca compared the effect of an intensive multidisciplinary treatment programme with ‘standard’ treatment given by a paediatrician. Forty children (and their parents) were treated by the multidisciplinary team, attending frequent appointments with a dietician. The parents were asked to record everything their children ate and pass the information to the dietician. The children also saw a physiotherapist, where they played ball games and exercised to music. The parents attended sessions with a psychologist and underwent behavioural therapy, in which they learned to reward their children without giving them sweets. They were taught about the difference between a child fancying something to eat and actually being hungry. The other 35 children received the ’standard’ treatment. They were seen by a paediatrician and their parents were given tips about a healthy lifestyle.

Lasting effect

In Bocca’s study, the group of children that underwent intensive treatment clearly achieved better results than the group that received standard treatment. The first group lost more weight, measured via a drop in BMI (Body Mass Index). Their waist circumference also shrunk. The second group lost less weight and their waist circumference remained the same. According to Bocca, the results are lasting. Bocca: ‘We monitored the children for three years. The group that underwent intensive treatment maintained their weight loss and had better body composition.’

Drop in healthcare costs

In view of these convincing results, Bocca would recommend giving children intensive multidisciplinary treatment. ‘It may be more expensive in the short term, but this will be offset by savings in long-term healthcare costs. These overweight children have a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. Targeted early intervention may prevent these problems in later life.”

Curriculum Vitae

Gianni Bocca (Goirle, 1969) studied medicine at Radboud University Nijmegen. He conducted his research in the Groningen Expert Center for Kids with Obesity (GECKO) of the University Medical Center Groningen. Hutchison Whampoa Limited from Hong Kong co-funded his research. His thesis is entitled ‘Effects of a multidisciplinary treatment program in overweight and obese preschool children’. Bocca works as a paediatrician in the UMCG.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.32 p.m.

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