Into the Mist

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.

Click here to read the study, here to read the editorial, and here for more from Reuters.

Into the Mist, photograph © Scott Sherrill-Mix / flickr

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April 13, 2017

5 Responses to “Learning When Childhood Obesity Prevention Fails”

  1. April 13, 2017 at 11:08 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Not only do I not have access to the full copy of the editorial, I’m not sure I could bring myself to read it.

    It goes give me a good chance to encourage folks to watch this cool TEDx Talk from Julia Galef:

    Thanks, Ted.


  2. April 13, 2017 at 2:56 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Self regulation is one thing. A dysfunctional energy regulation system is another. The science is there, but is frequently ignored.

    • April 14, 2017 at 4:06 am, Ted said:

      You are so very right, Allen. Thanks!

  3. April 21, 2017 at 2:50 pm, Barbara Corkey said:

    Suppose body weight, like blood sugar and body temperature is not under volitional control but rather due to obesogens and toxic substances in our environment?
    Behavioral therapy was tried and failed for both hypertension and ulcers until we learned the real cause.
    I admire scientists who seek the truth rather than support for their pet theory. Thank you.

    • April 21, 2017 at 4:22 pm, Ted said:

      Thank you, Barbara, for your good work to advance the field!