Objective: To identify effective programs to prevent or treat overweight among 2- to <6-year-old children.
Research methods and procedures: We searched six databases to identify evaluated intervention programs assessing changes in weight status or body fat and systematically summarized study attributes and outcomes.
Results: Four of the seven studies (two intervention, two prevention) documented significant reductions in weight status or body fat. Among these, three sustained reductions at 1 or 2 years after program initiation, three incorporated a framework/theory, two actively and one passively involved parents, three included multicomponent strategies, and all four monitored behavioral changes. Of the three (prevention) studies that did not show reduction in weight or fat status, all performed assessments between 4 and 9 months after program initiation, and one used a multicomponent strategy. Other significant changes reported were reductions in television viewing, cholesterol, and parental restriction of child feeding.
Discussion: The paucity of studies limits our ability to generalize findings. Among the available studies, multicomponent programs with 1- to 2-year follow-up in clinics or child care settings were successful in their impact on weight; they were likely enhanced by parental involvement. Both treatment programs and two of five prevention programs reduced weight/fat status. Our review highlights the need to evaluate more programs, advocate for use of a framework/behavioral theory and objective behavioral measures, further examine the impact of involving parents and the impact of intervention duration and follow-up time, strengthen prevention programs, and further evaluate successful programs in other settings and among other racial/ethnic groups.