The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a school and family based healthy lifestyle programme (WAVES intervention) compared with usual practice, in preventing childhood obesity. The primary analyses suggest that this experiential focused intervention had no statistically significant effect on BMI z score or on preventing childhood obesity. Schools are unlikely to impact on the childhood obesity epidemic by incorporating such interventions without wider support across multiple sectors and environments. Included in a response to these findings from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the Officer for Health Promotion said, ‘This study is disappointing but it only suggests this particular school-based intervention didn’t have the positive results we’d have hoped for. That doesn’t mean we should stop developing interventions in schools, nor does it mean that all schools interventions won’t be successful. Schools are a key place of action on childhood obesity. But it does confirm what we already know – that programmes in schools will not on their own combat childhood obesity.
Obese children and adolescents can lose up to seven pounds over six to 12 months when they engage in at least 52 hours of behaviour-based lifestyle interventions. Minimal benefit was seen with shorter contact time, with less than 25 hours ineffective. The control group gained weight.
Rising obesity in the young is a global concern, which may lead to high rates of obesity-related diseases in adulthood. This review identified trials covering various weight management strategies. Lifestyle-based-interventions with sufficient contact time – as recommended by UK guidelines – showed clear benefits with no evidence of harms.
Investing in effective strategies to manage child obesity will ultimately save healthcare costs. Behaviour-based support should now be assessed for long-term weight loss and maintenance.
The evidence is still lacking whether universal child screening for obesity should be performed in the UK.
This systematic review is part of a series of associated Cochrane reviews on interventions for obese children and adolescents and has shown that pharmacological interventions (metformin, sibutramine, orlistat and fluoxetine) may have small effects in reduction in BMI and bodyweight in obese children and adolescents. However, many of these drugs are not licensed for the treatment of obesity in children and adolescents, or have been withdrawn.