Background The prevalence of obesity and overweight is increasing worldwide. Obesity in children impacts on their health in both short- and long-term. Obesity prevention strategies are poorly understood.
Objective To assess the effectiveness of interventions designed to prevent obesity in childhood.
Search strategy Electronic databases were searched from January 1985 to October 1999.
Selection criteria Data from randomized control trials and non-randomized trials with concurrent control group were included. A priori, studies with follow up of 1 year minimum were selected however, this was subsequently amended to include studies with a minimum follow up of three months.
Data collection & analysis Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed study quality.
Main results Seven studies were included, three long-term (>1 years) and four short-term (>3 months and <1 years). The studies included were diverse in terms of study design and quality, target population, theoretical underpinning of intervention approach, and outcome measures. As such, it was not appropriate to combine study findings using statistical methods.
Conclusions Two of the long-term studies (one focused on dietary education and physical activity vs. control, and the other only on dietary education vs. control), resulted in a reduction in the prevalence on obesity, but the third, which focused on dietary education and physical activity, found no effect. Of the four short-term studies, three focused simply on physical activity/reduction of sedentary behavious vs. control. Two of these studies resulted in a reduction in the prevalence of obesity in intervention groups compared with control groups, and another study found a non-significant reduction. The fourth study focused on dietary education and physical activity, and did not find an effect on obesity, but did report a reduction in fat intake. Overall, the findings of the review suggest that currently there is limited quality data on the effectiveness of obesity prevention programmes and as such no generalizable conclusions can be drawn. The need for well-designed studies that examine a range of interventions remains a priority.