Learning When Childhood Obesity Prevention Fails
What do you do when a study fails to show the outcome you expected? When a strategy doesn’t work? When a carefully planned childhood obesity prevention strategy has no effect? In Pediatrics this week, Julie Lumeng and colleagues faced that very outcome. They tested the effects of a program for kids in Head Start aimed to improve self-regulation skills and prevent obesity. Teachers reported better self-regulation. But neither obesity nor most obesity-related behaviors changed.
One notable change: kids in the intervention group drank less sugar-sweetened beverages. That should please people who worry more about big soda than obesity rates.
Stubbornness and Persistence
Undaunted, Leonard Epstein and Stephanie Anzman-Frasca declare in a companion editorial:
It is premature to consider this inquiry closed. Given the extant literature linking self-regulation and later obesity, it is worthwhile to consider ways to strengthen future tests of self-regulation as a method to prevent childhood obesity.
In other words, this oughta work.
The fine line between wise persistence and foolish stubbornness is hard to see. Self-regulation skills are valuable. Other studies have shown promise. Maybe the follow-up wasn’t long enough. Maybe the program wasn’t strong enough.
Or maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. Maybe self-regulation – a good skill for any kid – simply does not lie at the root of childhood obesity.
It’s never too late to challenge assumptions.
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April 13, 2017