Evaluating Parents and Adult Caregivers as “Agents of Change” for Treating Obese Children: Evidence for Parent Behavior Change Strategies and Research Gaps

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This scientific statement addresses parents and adult caregivers (PACs) as “agents of change” for obese children, evaluating the strength of evidence that particular parenting strategies can leverage behavior change and reduce positive energy balance in obese youth. The statement has 3 specific aims. The first is to review core behavior change strategies for PACs as used in family-based treatment programs and to provide a resource list. The second is to evaluate the strength of evidence that greater parental “involvement” in treatment is associated with better reductions in child overweight. The third is to identify research gaps and new opportunities for the field. This review yielded limited and inconsistent evidence from randomized controlled clinical trials that greater PAC involvement necessarily is associated with better child outcomes. For example, only 17% of the intervention studies reported differential improvements in child overweight as a function of parental involvement in treatment. On the other hand, greater parental adherence with core behavior change strategies predicted better child weight outcomes after 2 and 5 years in some studies. Thus, the literature lacks conclusive evidence that one particular parenting strategy or approach causally is superior to others in which children have a greater focus in treatment. A number of research gaps were identified, including the assessment of refined parenting phenotypes, cultural tailoring of interventions, examination of family relationships, and incorporation of new technologies. A conceptual model is proposed to stimulate research identifying the determinants of PAC feeding and physical activity parenting practices, the results of which may inform new treatments. The statement addresses the need for innovative research to advance the scope and potency of PAC treatments for childhood obesity.

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