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MIL OSI – Source: University Of Auckland – Release/Statement

Headline: Pioneering healthy lifestyle programme lifts health and wellbeing of kids with weight issues

A pioneering healthy lifestyle programme for kids and teens with obesity called Whānau Pakari has resulted in physical and emotional health gains across a group tracked for 12 months, a new study shows.

Whānau Pakari means “Healthy self-assured families that are fully active”. The unique programme for 5-16 year olds, offered only in Taranaki, was designed to take healthcare out of hospitals and into people’s homes and communities. 

“It was evident the best way to address weight issues in young people was to de-medicalise what is a very personal condition, and design a new kind of service that removes the stigma and judgement around obesity. It was important to us that the service involves the whole family/whānau,” says Dr Yvonne Anderson, Liggins Institute researcher, Taranaki DHB paediatrician and lead author of the study.

“While Whānau Pakari may not be a silver bullet, many participants that engage and stick with the programme do really well. It’s time to celebrate their success.”

Researchers from the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland tracked 203 five to 16 year olds who enrolled in the programme for 12 months. Results are published today in the international journal, Obesity.

“The study participants were split into two groups: the ‘high intensity intervention’ and ‘low intensity’ group,” says Dr Anderson. “Children in both groups received a home visit involving a comprehensive health assessment and personalised advice at the beginning, six and 12 month time points.

“Those in the ‘high intensity group’ were also invited to weekly group sessions at community venues on topics including cooking, virtual supermarket tours, sports and physical activity, making persistent lifestyle changes and self-esteem.”

The main 12 month findings were:

  • consistent improvements in cardiovascular fitness in both groups (the high intensity group were on average, half a minute, or 11 percent faster on a 550 metre walk/run test)
  • important improvements in quality of life in both groups (the change in the high intensity group shifted them to within the range of peers who do not have weight issues)
  • modest reductions in body mass index (BMI) adjusted for age and sex in both groups
  • the one-fifth (22 percent) of participants who attended more than 70 percent of weekly sessions in the high intensity group had double the reduction in adjusted BMI, which moved some out of the “obese” BMI range into the “overweight” or “normal weight” ranges

“The kids and teens are, overall, emotionally healthier and happier – which is not always an outcome of these types of obesity interventions,” says Dr Anderson.  “The improvement in quality of life was clinically meaningful – which means the effect of the intervention is likely to have a positive health benefit for the individual long-term.”