If the tide doesn’t turn, the World Obesity Federation estimates that by 2030 over 200 million kids will be obese worldwide.
This is a huge health problem because obesity contributes to a long list of other medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, liver disease, as well as bone and joint problems. Respiratory issues like asthma and difficulty sleeping are prevalent among kids who are extremely overweight.
Obesity can also contribute to mental health issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. But a new Swedish study offers real hope. The answer isn’t conventional care like frequent visits to a clinic. It’s a mobile app that keeps track of a kid’s weight in real-time.
Past studies have shown that an effective way to improve children’s weight-conscious behaviors is to have follow-up visits to healthcare providers every two weeks. Unfortunately, this medical plan is generally unrealistic. As the study's lead researcher, Emilia Hagman, of the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, said in a press release: “… it’s not feasible, neither for the families nor the healthcare system. We, therefore, need to find new ways to provide more support.”
Those families who used the app had outcomes that were twice as good as the control group. In other words, more pounds lost — and adolescents benefited the most.
One hundred children used the weight app for one year while being tracked by researchers. Every day the children in the study would stand on a numberless scale. Their family then viewed their child’s weight loss progress on a graphic curve on the app with the targeted weight highlighted in green.
The apps were personalized. The targets were determined individually and updated every three months during in-person visits.
Healthcare professionals also had access to the kids’ data. Using a chat function on the app, healthcare personnel were able to give kids additional support. The chat feature also gave parents the ability to ask for help if they needed it.
The weight changes in those who used the app were compared against 300 children from the Swedish childhood obesity treatment register (BORIS) who were receiving the usual treatments at other clinics around the country. Members of the control group were selected randomly, and they were matched by age and sex to those using the app.
The results? Those families who used the app had outcomes that were twice as good as the control group. In other words, more pounds lost — and adolescents benefited the most.
“The app provides more support through continuous feedback, which creates clarity with regard to the treatment,” another of the study’s authors, Pernilla Danielsson Liljeqvist, also a researcher at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology at Karolinska Institute, said. “It was particularly gratifying that it worked so well for adolescents, who we otherwise have not been able to reach with behavior-changing therapy.”
There were also no side effects associated with the use of the app, though a limitation of the study is that the app treatment was used in only one clinic. Also, there were no data relating to the number of clinic visits in the control group.
If your child is overweight, speak with your healthcare provider to be sure there aren’t any underlying medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control also recommend:
- Making sure your child gets at least 60 minutes of exercise a day
- Promoting good sleep habits
- Cutting down on screen time
- Offering a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean protein, as well as substituting sugar and calorie-rich drinks with water
The study can be found in the International Journal of Obesity.