Stewart, M. Laura
Randomised controlled trial of a novel dietetic treatment for childhood obesity and a qualitative study of parents’ perceptions of dietetic treatment.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in the world and is widely acknowledged as having become a global epidemic.(1) The prevalence of childhood obesity in the United Kingdom (UK) dramatically increased over a short number of years in the 1990s.(2-4) There are well-recognised health consequences of childhood obesity, both during childhood as well as those tracking into adulthood affecting health, psychological and economical welfare.(5;6) However, there is a surprising lack of well conducted published research into effective childhood obesity treatment strategies and few with relevance to the UK National Health Service (NHS).(5;7)
This thesis describes (a) the Scottish Childhood Obesity Treatment Trial (SCOTT), a randomised controlled trial (RCT) that compared standard NHS dietetic management of childhood obesity with a novel intensive dietetic approach in Scottish primary school aged (5 – 11 years old) children and (b) reports a complementary qualitative study that explored the parents’ perceptions of the dietetic treatments their child received during the SCOTT project. The SCOTT project was conceived to be an easily reproducible treatment programme within the UK NHS system for primary school aged children.
The SCOTT quantitative study was a single-blind RCT involving 134 obese children of primary school age (5 -11 years), 75 females and 59 males. Inclusion criteria were children with ‘simple’ obesity (body mass index (BMI) 98th centile on the UK 1990 charts) and families that perceived the child’s weight as a problem and were motivated to change. The intervention arm involved an evidence-based novel dietetic treatment over 6-months giving 5 hours of treatment and used client-centred behavioural change techniques to increase motivation for changing diet (using a modified traffic light diet), increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour. The control arm received 1.5 hours of ‘typical’ dietetic weight management delivered in a traditional (educational) manner. Outcomes recorded at baseline, six and 12 months were BMI standard deviation (SD) score, objectively measured physical activity and sedentary behaviour (using accelerometers) and possible adverse effects of treatment (height growth and quality of life). The primary outcome was change in BMI SD score at six months.
The complementary qualitative study used in-depth interviews to explore the thoughts and feeling of parents of the children who had completed the dietetic intervention. All interviews took place after the SCOTT 12 month outcome measurements had been completed. Purposive sampling was used and out of the 79 eligible SCOTT parents 17 were interviewed. The interviews were taped and then transcribed by experienced secretaries. Analysis was carried out using the Framework methodology (8) and aided by Nvivo software.
The novel treatment programme had no significant effect relative to the standard dietetic care on BMI SD score from baseline to six months
(-0.10 vs -0.06; 95% CI -0.05 to 0.11) and 12 months (-0.07 vs -0.19; 95% CI -0.17 to 0.07). BMI SD score decreased significantly within both groups from baseline to six and 12 months. There were significant differences between the groups in favour of the novel treatment group for changes in total percentage of time spent in physical activity (95%CI 0.8 to 6.3) and light intensity physical activity (95%CI -4.8 to -0.5).
In the qualitative study we found themes and concepts both on our original evaluation and emergent data on the parents’ thoughts and feelings on entering, continuing and leaving treatment. Those parents who had taken part in the behavioural change techniques applauded the process finding it child-friendly and talked of ‘forming a partnership’ with the child and dietitian. Developing a rapport with the dietitian was significant for the parents in their perception of a positive experience. Parents appeared to be characterised as being unaware of their child’s weight problem, in denial, or actively seeking treatment. Parents were consistently motivated to enter treatment due to perceived benefits to their child’s self esteem or quality of life, and weight outcomes were considered less important. During treatment parents expressed a lack of support for lifestyle changes outside the clinic, and noted that members of the extended family often undermined changes. Parents generally felt that treatment should have continued beyond six months, and that it had provided benefits to their child’s well-being, self-esteem, and quality of life, and this is what motivated many of them to remain engaged with treatment.
The modest magnitude of the benefits observed in the SCOTT study perhap suggest that interventions should be longer term and more intense. The results of the qualitative study suggested that longer term interventions would be acceptable to parents.
The qualitative study was an informative addition to the SCOTT quantitative study as it allowed exploration of the subtle differences as perceived by the parents who took part in both arms of the study. It may help inform future treatments for childhood obesity by providing insights into the aspects of treatment and approaches applauded by parents. Future treatments may need to consider providing greater support to lifestyle changes within the extended family, and may need to focus more on psychosocial outcomes. This study highlighted skills and qualities required by dietitians and other health professionals to engage with families of obese children.
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