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Obesity risk factors decline in test of prevention program for preschoolers

Research suggests integrated, community-wide initiatives can impact children from low-income families, who have the greatest risk for obesity.

By Amy Wallace
Obesity risk factors decline in test of prevention program for preschoolers
A recent study shows that obesity risk factors declined in preschoolers who participated in prevention programs. Photo by Diego Cervo/UPI

June 27 (UPI) -- A new study shows that preschoolers from low-income families who took part in a two-year community-wide intervention program showed improvement in weight.

The intervention program detailed in the study, which was published June 26 in Obesity, promoted healthy eating and lifestyle habits resulting in preschoolers consuming fewer sugary beverages, getting more sleep and improving weight.

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"Evidence strongly suggests that instilling healthy habits in young children is a necessary cornerstone in efforts to prevent obesity and its sequelae," Dr. Jennifer Woo Baidal, assistant professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric weight management at CUMC, said in a press release.

"Though some progress has been made in reducing childhood obesity, not all families are aware that certain strategies -- like eliminating sugary drinks, limiting screen time, and getting enough physical activity and sleep -- help young children achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Solutions that can be scaled-up are urgently needed to prevent obesity in young children at highest risk."

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The study tested the childhood obesity prevention program at the Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration, or MA-CORD, program for families from low-income communities with high obesity rates.

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The MA-CORD program was implemented at two community-wide offices for the Special Supplementation for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program.

Researchers found that children participating in the intervention program engaged in more physical activity and less screen time compared to their peers who were not in the program.

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"Overall, the intervention had a positive impact on reducing obesity risk factors among the children in our study, but the smaller impact on reducing BMI may be due to factors that can't be easily controlled, such as access to high-quality, nutritious foods in the community and the challenge of measuring rapid changes in growth during early childhood," said Rachel Colchamiro, director of nutrition services for the Nutrition Division at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "Because obesity disproportionately affects lower-income families, incorporating WIC providers and community systems into multi-sector obesity prevention efforts could yield high results at a national level."

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