Family-centered coaching offers new approach to managing obesity

An apple and a heart are shown with a stethoscope.

Through efforts to support children who were overweight or obese, pediatric researchers studied the impact that health coaches may have in helping families make heart-healthy changes together.

To evaluate the impact of family-focused health coaches, 226 children who were overweight or obese were included in an intervention arm where they and a parent or caregiver, who was also overweight or obese, received health coaching for up to two years. While meeting with a health coach, families could learn about heart-healthy eating, physical activity, and ways parents could support their children. An additional 226 children who were overweight or obese and received standard care and served as the control group. Outcomes among 106 siblings, who were also overweight or obese, were noted throughout the study.

Researchers saw variations in results, but found that children who received the intervention had better outcomes than those who received standard treatment. Additionally, parents and siblings from the treatment group had better outcomes compared to the control group. “This research shows that the healthy behaviors the treatment promotes extend beyond the parent and child being treated to potentially make the whole family healthier,” says David C. Goff Jr., M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at NHLBI. “What’s more, the fact that this weight-loss study was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many adults and children gained weight, is noteworthy.”

The study, which was funded by NHLBI, published in JAMA.