A new study led by Gasol Foundation & IMIM provides evidence about the prevention of childhood obesity

European Journal of Pediatrics publishes an article on the work led by the Gasol Foundation and the Hospital del Mar Institute and Medical Research, in order to define the effectiveness of community programs’ that promote healthy habits.

The prestigious European Journal of Pediatrics, a leader in the field of pediatric medicine research, publishes a study lead by researchers Dr. Santiago Gómez (Program Manager of the Gasol Foundation) and Helmut Schröder (Senior Researcher of the Instituto Hospital del Mar de Investigaciones Médicas and Head of the CIBER group in Epidemiology and Public Health, CIBERESP).

This article details the results of the POIBC research, whose objective is to survey the effectiveness of the Thao-Children’s Health Program in its incidence of overweight and obesity in boys and girls. In context, these studies reveal no significant changes achieved in the body mass index of the children targeted by the intervention. However, the importance of preventative programs are emphasized not only to help advance in the investigation against this serious health epidemic, but to also clarify which practices demonstrate moderate efficacy in this field as well.

Childhood obesity is an epidemic that currently affects 42 million children worldwide

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), this figure will exponentially increase in 10 years, thus reaching 70 million children worldwide. In Spain, the figures are discouraging: 39% of children suffer from childhood obesity or are overweight. The seriousness of these statistics has highlighted the need to promote initiatives to reverse these negative trends. More importantly, such figures also indicate that we are facing a problem that does not transpire from a single cause. Childhood obesity is multifactorial and multilevel. Meaning, it requires the implementation of many components. Such components include educational and community programs that work through different fields and through various coordinated agents simultaneously, while also incorporating the promotion of a holistic approach to healthy habits. These particular initiatives are called Community-Based Interventions (CBI).

Innovative initiatives to attack a global epidemic

Their studies show that 2,250 children between the ages of 8 and 10 years old, along with their relatives from four Catalan towns, (Sant Boi de Llobregat and Terrassa, where the intervention was applied, and Molins de Rei and Gavà, in which no intervention was done and the sample was used as a control group) participated in the complex community program THAO – Children’s Health, during the entire duration of two school years (15 month). The objective of this municipally community program was to raise awareness of the importance of healthy habits and to reduce, as a consequence, the figures for childhood obesity in the communities involved.

The scientific evidence on the effectiveness of such community interventions to reduce childhood obesity figures is still scarce, but it is proven that initiatives such as the Spanish THAO- Children’s Health and the systematic reviews carried out by researchers from around the world, helped to identify the most effective practices that coincide with the different interventions. These 4 effective practices that should be applied between multiple agents are: duration, target audience, design and coordination between multiple agents.

The programs that show the most favourable results are those that are applied in the long term, with a minimum of 24 months to build and strengthen relations with the key agents of the territory. It is also learned that interventions aimed at early childhood (2 to 8 years) are reporting better results because during these early years, the family is more involved in the education of the child and more receptive to incorporate new habits. Lastly, the  programs that provide an innovative design that allows the inclusion of different components (physical activity, food, etc.) to be promoted into the intervention through different channels (school, family, community), prove to be the most effective so far.