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Earlier intervention in underweight children leads to greater weight recovery

Posted:  Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Probably one of the few instances when weight gain is permissible is when underweight children are at the centre of focus. Although underweight children often recover with due treatment, the influence of household risk factors on their recovery remains shrouded in the unknown. A recent study has now shown that earlier intervention leads to better recovery in young underweight children, particularly in those with multiple household risk factors.

Published in The Journal of Pediatrics, the study analysed whether children with multiple household risk factors such as crowding, single parent and/or poverty were differentially responsive to treatments. As part of the study, the researchers administered a skill-building mealtime behaviour intervention to families of 286 children aged 6 to 36 months, who fell under the fifth percentile for their weight /age. The intervention comprised a number of aspects like access to healthy food, nutritional counselling, coaching to establish healthy eating habits and routines, and a video-recorded mealtime assessment.

The use of videos to observe and analyse parent and child mealtime behaviours was a key element of the intervention. These videos were later played back to the parents so that they could correct their errant mealtime behaviours. The researchers also collected information on 9 household risk factors and 7 child risk factors like feeding disorders and prematurity. Children with four or more household risk factors were placed in the top quartile and compared against children in the bottom three quartiles.

Interestingly, the researchers found that children with higher number of household risk factors gained more weight over a six month period than children with fewer household risk factors. What’s more, compared with older children, the weight recovery was significantly higher in children under 2 years of age, irrespective of the risk factors.

Explaining the implications of their study, Dr. Maureen Black, the lead researcher of the study said, "When a child has eating problems or fails to grow, it often disrupts the entire family. Instead of focusing only on the medical or nutritional issues that may be at play, we believe -- and this study reinforces -- the importance of incorporating the entire family into treatment. Making even small changes in a child's proximal environment like eating together at a table as opposed to the couch in front of the television can have significant benefits."

Now that it is clear that environmental factors do influence recovery in underweight children, the researchers next plan to train their spotlight on obese children.

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