Professor Atul Singhal of the UCL Institute of Child Health led the study, published in the journal Obesity, which showed that participants in the MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition? Do It!) programme lost weight, lowered their body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, and improved their self esteem and physical activity levels. Their general health, including cardiovascular fitness, also improved.
The independent study is the first randomised controlled trial in the UK to investigate the benefits of a community-based child weight management programme.
116 children aged between eight and 12 years took part in the research, which involved attending a nine-week MEND programme, followed by 12 weeks of free family swimming between January 2005 and January 2007.
Waist circumference, BMI, body composition, physical activity level, sedentary activities, cardiovascular fitness and self esteem were assessed at the start of the programme, and again at six and 12 months. All measures improved at six months and were sustained at 12 months.
Professor Atul Singhal, paediatrician and head of clinical trials in the Childhood Nutrition Research Centre at the UCL Institute of Child Health, said: ?These results suggest that the MEND programme helps overweight and obese children lose weight, at least in the short term. They also show that child weight management programmes have a positive effect on a child‘s health and so could help to address the rising obesity problem in children.’
The MEND Programme is a free 10-week, after-school weight management course where overweight and obese children and their families learn how to eat healthily and enjoy physical activity. 15,000 families have benefited from the programme since it was established in 2004.
By the final year of primary school, nearly one in three children aged 10 or 11 is overweight, according to the latest data from the Government’s National Child Measurement Programme in schools.
Harry MacMillan, Chief Executive of MEND, said: ‘The MEND Programme isn’t a miracle pill for obesity, but what this independent study does show is that child weight-loss programmes that involve the whole family, like the MEND Programme, are a scientifically-proven and sustainable solution to the child obesity crisis.?
With the advent of MRC-Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, the UCL Institute of Child Health now harbours the largest critical mass of expertise in paediatric nutrition research in Europe. Its staff conduct research on the impact of nutrition on the health and development of infants and children in order to underpin and foster the development of clinical and public health practice and professional training in paediatric nutrition. It also helps catalyse, steer and staff the development of Paediatric Nutrition at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children as a new, emerging clinical academic discipline in paediatrics.
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, UCL and three other NHS hospital Trusts (Moorfields Eye Hospital, UCLH and the Royal Free) together form UCL Partners , Europe’s largest academic health science partnership.