Outcomes of a 1-year randomized controlled trial to evaluate a behavioral ‘stepped-down’ weight loss intervention for adolescent patients with obesity

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Stepped-care approaches to weight loss have shown some success among adults. A ‘stepped-down’ version of the stepped-care approach to adolescent weight loss has never been evaluated.


We conducted a one-year randomized controlled trial to compare a stepped-down weight loss intervention versus enhanced usual care (EUC).


Study participants were obese adolescents age 11–13 (N = 106, 51% girls, and 82% Hispanic) recruited from primary care clinics in San Diego, California. The stepped-down intervention was delivered through clinician and health educator counseling (in-person and by phone) and mailed content. The intervention consisted of four-month ‘steps’ beginning with the most intensive contact followed by reduced contact if treatment goals were met. The EUC group received an initial physician visit, one session with a health counselor, and monthly mailed materials. Body mass index (BMI kg/m2) was measured at baseline, 4, 8, and 12 months. Mixed-model regression analyses were stratified by sex.


Results indicated a clinically significant treatment effect for boys on BMI (p < 0.001) but not girls. No between group differences were found for adiposity and biometric outcomes. Only 13% of intervention participants succeeded in stepping down from step 1 to step 2 or step 3.


A stepped-down approach to weight loss showed some evidence of efficacy for weight loss in boys but not girls. The findings suggest the program as designed was not intensive enough to result in weight loss in this population segment.

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