The effect of implementing a healthy lifestyle in overweight children

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Given the growing number of overweight children, we can say that childhood obesity has become a great concern for public health worldwide. Obesity at an early age is associated with a higher cardiometabolic risk in adulthood.

Spain is one of the European countries with the highest prevalence of obesity in children aged 8 to 17, reporting worrying numbers, between 12.6% and 26%. A worse situation is encountered in boys aged 8-13, from families with a lower socio-economic and educational level. National strategies and policies have been launched to address this major problem.

Abdominal adiposity is strongly associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (BHGNA), which occurs due to the accumulation of triglycerides in the hepatocytes, in the absence of alcohol consumption. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is considered to be the hepatic manifestation of the metabolic syndrome. The main recommendations for the prevention and treatment of this disease are: lifestyle changes, improving the quality of one’s diet (with an emphasis on avoiding sugary drinks) and increasing physical activity.

The importance of early treatment for obesity and BHGNA is related to the prevention of adiposity-related comorbidities, but also to the fact that lifestyle changes seem to be more effective in childhood than in adulthood, because it’s during childhood when most habits are developed. Parents’ active participation and involvement in lifestyle interventions can increase their effectiveness, as they are key agents in their children’s lifestyles.

The EFIGRO study, conducted in 2014-2017, divided the participants into two groups, the difference between them being that one group of children participated exclusively in a healthy lifestyle, based on a family program, and the other did not.

The study began with a program to promote a healthy lifestyle, in which both children and their parents participated. It was carried out by nutritionists and had as main objective the improvement of eating habits by increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables, reviewing healthy breakfast habits, reducing sugar consumption, as well as increasing physical activity.

The 22-week study found some very interesting aspects of the effect of a healthy lifestyle on markers of adiposity in overweight children. First, the intervention program was effective in reducing the intake of energy, carbohydrates, total fats, plain and/or added sugar, as well as increasing the consumption of low-fat fruits and dairy products.

Consequently, after the program, the children improved their eating habits by adhering to the Mediterranean dietary models and DASH, had a better quality of breakfast and an optimal distribution of energy throughout the day. Second, the fact that they gave up the consumption of sweet drinks helped them in reducing their liver fat, even in the absence of physical training.

In conclusion, a healthy 22-week life program, based on family diet, focused largely on nutritional education is proven to be very effective in improving eating habits in overweight children.

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