Intensive programs that teach children about exercise and healthy eating are most effective for weight loss, based on a recent study that compared various types of weight loss treatments for adolescents.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study looked at both the risks and benefits of weight loss treatments in children. It included data from 59 weight loss trials that tested healthy lifestyle interventions like heathy eating and physical activity, as well as potential weight loss medications. In total, these trials included more than 8,500 overweight and obese children between the ages of 2 and 18.
After analysis, researchers found that lifestyle interventions were consistently effective in helping children lose weight in 6–12 months. Lifestyle interventions were also associated with improvements in measures of depression and self-esteem and had no serious risks.
However, researchers note that interventions including at least 26 hours of contact were more effective than those with less intensive programming. Interventions that included 52 or more hours of programming were also significantly more effective in lowering children’s blood pressure.
Compared to lifestyle interventions, the risks and benefits of weight loss drugs were less clear. Only 11 of the studies included in the analysis tested weight loss medications, including metformin and orlistat. Among these studies, medication was associated with very little weight loss in children and did carry some risks, such as abdominal pain, cramps and vomiting. Researchers also note that weight loss medications did not appear to improve markers of heart health, such as blood pressure and blood sugar.
Based on findings, authors conclude that interventions promoting exercise and healthy eating are not only effective but extremely safe for children. Findings also support a minimum of 26 hours of weight loss programming to be most effective. However, the jury is still out on the use of weight loss medication in overweight and obese children, as there’s not enough reliable evidence to confirm the risks and benefits.