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CBT is Effective for Childhood Obesity

According to a recent study published in Quality of Life Research, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can be effective in reducing obesity and increasing health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in children. The current study, based in the Netherlands, sought to assess the effects of a family-based multidisciplinary CBT, aimed at reducing Body Mass Index (BMI) and improving quality of life in obese children in comparison to standard care. Those who participated (n=81) ranged in age from 8 to 17 years. The children were randomly assigned to receive the multidisciplinary CBT intervention (n=41) or care as usual (n=40), including advice regarding nutrition and physical activity. The intervention consisted of a 3 month screening phase involving a dietician, child-physiotherapist and child-psychologist. Afterward, there was a 3 month intensive phase consisting of group meetings for the children and their parents. Treatment was also followed by booster sessions; totaling a period of 2 years.

Following 3 months of treatment and at the 12-month follow up, multidisciplinary CBT was found to be statistically significant in reducing the BMI of participants. An ANCOVA test showed a decline from 4.2 BMI-Standard Deviation Score (SDS) at baseline to 3.8 BMI-SDS at the 12-month follow-up; there was no change in the BMI-SDS of the control group.  Analysis for health-related quality of life was based on child report (DISABKIDS) as well as parent report. Immediately following the intervention there were improvements in quality of life as measured by the HRQOL, though non-significant at that time. However, the results from baseline to the 12-month follow up showed that there was a statistically significant increase in quality of life, both physically and emotionally.

This study is important as it shows the longitudinal effects of a Multidisciplinary CBT, whereas most similar studies have only shown short term effects. Though further longitudinal studies of this kind are needed, the results suggest that a family-based multidisciplinary CBT can be an effective treatment for reducing BMI and increasing health-related quality of life in children suffering with obesity.

Vos, R.C., Huisman, S.D., Houdijk, E.C.A.M., Pijl, H., & Wit, J.M. (2012) The effect of family-based multidisciplinary cognitive behavioral treatment on health-related quality of life in childhood obesity.  Quality of Life Research, 21(9), 1587-1594