Researchers report success in a primary care-directed weight management program designed specifically for teenage girls.
Results from the six-month program included less weight gain, improved body image, less consumption of fast food and more participation in family meals. The program included weekly peer meetings, consultations with primary care providers and separate meetings for parents.
Kaiser Permanente researchers have published their results online in the journal Pediatrics.
Experts say the study is the first to report long-term results from a weight management program designed specifically for teenage girls.
Most other programs have included younger children and interventions focused on the entire family. This program included separate meetings for parents with the rationale that teens are motivated more by peer acceptance than parental influence.
The study is also unique in that it was conducted in a primary-care setting, rather than an academic or specialty-care environment.
“Nearly one-third of teenage girls are overweight or obese, and many of them are likely to become obese adults,” said Lynn DeBar, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author and senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.
“Our study shows that intervention programs can help these girls achieve long-term success managing their weight and also learning new habits that will hopefully carry over into their adult life.”
“Many teenage girls are still growing taller, so for them, maintaining weight or slowing weight gain is an acceptable goal,” said Phil Wu, M.D., a pediatrician who leads Kaiser Permanente’s effort to prevent and treat childhood obesity and is also a co-author of the study.
“Girls in the program gained less weight than those who weren’t in the program, and they reduced their overall body mass index, improved their self-image and developed healthy lifestyle habits, so all of these are successes.”
Researchers followed 208 girls, ages 12-17. All of the girls were classified as overweight or obese, according to standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.
Half of the girls were assigned to the intervention group and half to usual care.
Girls in the intervention group met weekly with their peers and a behavioral counselor during the first three months, and then every other week during months four and six.
The girls were weighed and asked to keep a food and activity diary, which they discussed during each meeting. The program focused on decreasing portion size, limiting consumption of energy-rich foods, establishing regular meal patterns, substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages, reducing fast food, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, and having more family meals.
A significant exercise prescription was delivered with girls encouraged to exercise at least five days a week for 30-60 minutes. Moreover, screen time was to be limited to two hours a day.
Participants also received yoga instruction, and a physical-activity video game to use at home. Discussion topics included ways to avoid disordered eating, coping with family and peer teasing and developing strategies to combat negative self-talk.
An important part of the problem included parental education on support for their daughters. This weekly meeting was not held in the presence of the daughters.
Health care providers received summaries of the girls’ current health habits, including meal and physical activity patterns. After receiving training in motivational techniques, the providers met with the girls at the beginning of the study to help them choose one or two behaviors to work on.
The providers had a second visit with the girls at the end of the six-month intervention to check their progress.
Girls assigned to the usual-care group received a packet of materials that included a list of online reading about lifestyle changes. They also met with their primary care provider at the beginning of the study, but the providers were not given health habit summaries for these girls.
Both groups had health assessments and lab tests at the beginning of the study, at six months, and then again at 12 months. The girls started out with an average weight in the 190 lb. range, and an average body mass index in the 97th percentile, which by CDC standards is considered to be obese.
At the end of the study, girls who participated in the program were in the 95th percentile, while girls in the usual-care group were in the 96th percentile.
Researchers say the weight changes were statistically significant but modest compared to some other weight loss interventions.
They point out that the girls were severely obese to begin with and possibly treatment-resistant due to previous involvement in other weight loss programs.
A salient feature of the program was a de-emphasis on calorie counting, focusing instead on lifestyle changes. However, researchers acknowledge that this approach may have produced more modest weight changes than they had expected.
This study is part of ongoing Kaiser Permanente research into weight loss. Previous studies include:
Source: Kaiser Permanente