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Key to Dealing with Parents of Obese Children: Be Straightforward

Update Date: Jul 22, 2013 01:58 PM EDT
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Even though obesity has just been defined as a disease by the American Medical Association, discussing this condition with patients remains a difficult task. Now that doctors are supposed to treat obesity with a stricter guideline, getting patients to understand the importance of losing weight is vital. For young obese or overweight children, a new study reports that the best way to address their condition with them and their parents is to be straightforward and nonjudgmental.

Childhood obesity can considerably be worse than adult obesity. A new study found that the longer a person remains obese, the higher the risk of heart disease becomes. Aside from heart disease, childhood obesity can lead to chronic illnesses and premature death, which is why getting children to lose weight and maintain a healthy one is extremely important. In this study, the researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand found that being straightforward without judgment could be an effective approach for discussing obesity with parents of heavy children.

"We know from doctors and other health professionals that they are quite reluctant to talk about overweight and obesity with parents because it's a pretty sensitive, emotive issue. How do you bring it up? If we are going to do this in all our four-year-olds we need to have a pretty good way of informing parents," the researchers explained according to Medical Xpress.

The researchers, headed by associate professor, Rachael Taylor from the University's Edgar National Center for Diabetes and Obesity Research, looked at the B4 School Check data set that was composed of vision, hearing and other health development aspects. In 2008, height and weight measurements were added to the school check, which provided the researchers the chance to study when children could be vulnerable to excessive weight gain.

The researchers then proceeded to compare the effectiveness of using motivational interviews to using simple, straightforward and non-judgmental conversations. Motivational interviewing (MI) was first developed to help with drug and alcohol rehabilitation. This type of interviewing involves discussing the problem at hand and then providing ways of improving oneself. The researchers believed that this form of counseling could potentially be a friendlier way of approaching the subject of obesity with parents.

After reviewing children between the ages of four to eight from 1,093 families, they found that motivational interviewing was not any more effective than having a straightforward conversation with the parents of an obese or overweight child. Around 80 percent of the sample set reported that the feedback from the doctor was good and non-judgmental. Around two-thirds of the parents were able to admit that their children had weight issues that could be harmful to their health. There were 271 overweight children in this study.

"It's good that usual care feedback was just as good as MI because usual care - giving feedback in a straight-forward, non-judgmental and empathetic way - is obviously going to be much easier for health practitioners," Taylor said.

As of right now, a study to test an intervention package created to help parents with overweight or obese children is underway. The randomized trial involved 203 families who all have children who surpassed the healthy weight range. The study will end in August. 

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