Interventions for treating obesity in children

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(3):CD001872. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001872.


Background: The prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing in child populations throughout the world. Obesity in children has significant short and long term health consequences.

Objectives: To assess the effects of a range of lifestyle interventions designed to treat obesity in childhood.

Search strategy: We searched CCTR, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsychLIT, Science Citation Index, Social Science Citation Index. Each database was searched from 1985 to July 2001. We also contacted experts in child obesity treatment.

Selection criteria: We selected randomised controlled trials of lifestyle interventions for treating obesity in children with a minimum of six months duration. Examples of lifestyle interventions include dietary, physical activity and/or behavioural therapy interventions, with or without the support of associated family members. Interventions from any setting and delivered by any professional were considered. However, interventions that specifically dealt with the treatment of eating disorders were excluded.

Data collection and analysis: Two of our research team independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Authors of the included studies were contacted for additional information where this was appropriate.

Main results: We included 18 randomised controlled trials with 975 participants. Many studies were run from a specialist obesity clinic within a hospital setting. Five studies (n=245 participants) investigated changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Two studies (n=107 participants) compared problem-solving with usual care or behavioural therapy. Nine studies (n=399 participants) compared behavioural therapy at varying degrees of family involvement with no treatment or usual care or mastery criteria and contingent reinforcement. Two studies (n=224 participants) compared cognitive behavioural therapy with relaxation.Most of the studies included in this review were too small to have the power to detect the effects of the treatment. We did not conduct a meta-analysis since so few of the trials included the same comparisons and outcomes. Therefore, we synthesised the results in a narrative format.

Reviewer's conclusions: Although 18 research studies were found, most of these were very small studies drawn from homogenous, motivated groups in hospital settings and so generalisable evidence from them is limited. In conclusion, there is a limited amount of quality data on the components of programs to treat childhood obesity that favour one program over another. Further research that considers psychosocial determinants for behaviour change, strategies to improve clinician-family interaction, and cost-effective programs for primary and community care is required. We conclude that no direct conclusions can be drawn from this review with confidence.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic