Study: Text messages, health coaching improves obesity management in children

Linking clinical care with community resources helps children manage their weight, according to new research out of MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, both based in Boston.

The researchers — led by Elsie Taveras, MD, chief of general pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children — enrolled 721 children from six Harvard Vanguard pediatric practices with a body mass index in the overweight or obese range. The children were assigned to one of two enhanced primary care groups, one of which included health coaching.

The researchers provided all participating children with educational materials on weight management, such as improving sleep quality and physical activity. The parents of all participating children also received monthly text messages with information about community resources and supportive behaviors to motivate their children. Those in the health coaching group also received individualized support, YMCA memberships and twice-weekly text messages.

The research findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, detailed the outcomes of both groups. Participating children in both groups had improved BMI scores, with slightly greater improvement among those in the coaching group. The parents of children in the coaching group also reported significant improvement in health-related quality of life. The majority of parents said they were satisfied with text message communication.

"More and more we recognize that, if we don't assist families in tackling the social and environmental conditions that impede their ability to make changes to their obesity-related behaviors, we will not be successful in pediatric weight management," said Dr. Taveras.

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