The younger children are when you start treating them for overweight, the higher the chances of success. And the emphasis should lie on wellbeing and lifestyle, not on losing weight.
This conclusion was drawn by Laila van der Heijden, a paediatrician and a PhD candidate at Human Nutrition. She studied the effect of three treatment programmes for overweight children. They worked best with younger children. Keeping it up proved difficult: one third of the young children and 41 per cent of the teenagers involved dropped out, mainly due to lack of motivation.
The treatment of overweight children tends to concentrate on their excess weight and its medical consequences, says Van der Heijden. ‘We want to get away from that. There are usually underlying psychosocial problems, such as problems at school or in the family. So treating overweight requires a multidisciplinary approach, in which we look at aspects such as behaviour, diet, exercise levels and self-image. If a child doesn’t lose a kilo, but does feel happier, that’s beneficial in itself.’