Weight Management Program for Teenage Girls Shows Long-Term Success

The study emphasized lifestyle changes among the girls who were considered overweight or obese

February 16, 2012 -- Teenage girls lost weight and adopted healthier long-term habits when primary care providers, peers and family members were involved in their care, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, it's the first study to show long-term success from a weight management program specifically for teenage girls. The study followed 208 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 in Oregon and Washington.

Lynn DeBars, PhD, MPH, one of the lead authors, said researchers focused on teenage girls because few weight-loss programs exist for this population and during initial screenings, the girls wanted to participate in such a study but were adamant that the peer discussions – part of the project where girls discussed their progress with each other – happen in a single-sex setting.

Teenage girls are also more likely to develop eating disorders or depression regarding their weight. While many weight-loss studies screen out girls with a history of other problems, this study allowed those with a history of eating disorders to participate.

“The kinds of successful programs for eating disorders and for obesity are much more similar than people might think,” DeBars said. The study emphasized eating regular meals, portion control and regular activity rather than urging girls to count calories or set specific weight-loss goals. Girls also received counseling and participated in discussions about positive body image.

The study emphasized lifestyle changes that these girls were more likely to stick with, and also tracked them for one year. Other weight-loss programs – especially those reporting quick, dramatic results – see changes that start to reverse after people stop participating.

All the girls were classified as overweight or obese, with an average weight in the 190 pound range, and body mass indexes in the 97th percentile for their age group. They were weighed again at six months and one year after the study began.

“The heavier people are, the tougher the changes are; it's quite a commitment,” DeBars said, noting that it’s more difficult for people who are obese to lose weight in such program because they’ve tried before with little long-term success. “There really isn't a magic bullet for this.”

The girls in this study kept a food and activity diary and were asked to decrease their portion sizes and eat regular meals. Exercise options such as yoga, walking and fitness video games were also stressed. And their parents were given advice about providing healthier meals and eating together as a family more frequently.

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