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Modest Weight Loss in Children Can Help With Obesity Later in Life

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

Children can achieve nonoverweight status with modest weight loss or by slowing weight gain, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, minimizing the likelihood of being overweight or obese in adulthood.

Obesity affects 17 percent, or 12.5 million children aged 2-19 years in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but researchers found that a relatively small weight loss of 2 to 7 kilograms (about 4 to 15 pounds) can shift a child to nonoverweight status within a year, even for severely overweight children.

The study looked at 669 children, ages 8-13 years old, who were overweight or obese and seeking treatment.

Height-growth data was recorded to determine age- and sex-specific weight thresholds for achieving a Body Mass Index score below the 85th percentile—the threshold considered healthy by the CDC.

The data collected from the study participants also provided weight-loss targets for hypothetical children to determine better estimates on how much obese or overweight children need to lose to achieve nonoverweight status and reduce their likelihood of obesity later in life.

Additional models were developed using software to determine yearly height changes in children starting at 8 years of age and ending at 13 years.

In addition to the height-growth data, the researchers also used the CDC's BMI score data from 2000 to help calculate the weight threshold at the 85th percentile for children of different age and height to figure out what weight changes were necessary to shift a child to nonoverweight status.

Overall, the study found that only a relatively small amount of weight change is necessary for young children to achieve nonoverweight status after one year. For children who are closer to the 85th percentile, and growing at an expected rate, more weight gain during one year could even normalize their weight status, given accompanying height changes.

For severely obese children over the recommended BMI score, larger weight loss might be necessary to achieve nonoverweight status, and with modest goals to improve current and future health, there's no reason why obese children couldn't shift their BMI to below the 85th percentile.

Family-based interventions, like physical activity programs, self-monitoring, and parenting skills were used in the study, and were found to have a greater potential effect in normalizing weight in children than universal one-size-fits-all approaches.

Once weight normalization has been achieved and a child is considered nonoverweight, the study suggests it's important to maintain the behaviors and habits developed during the weight intervention to prevent a relapse into overweight status.

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