Randomised controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of 'Families for Health', a family-based childhood obesity treatment intervention delivered in a community setting for ages 6 to 11 years

Wendy Robertson, Joanna Fleming, Atiya Kamal, Thomas Hamborg, Kamran A Khan, Frances Griffiths, Sarah Stewart-Brown, Nigel Stallard, Stavros Petrou, Douglas Simkiss, Elizabeth Harrison, Sung Wook Kim, Margaret Thorogood
Health Technology Assessment: HTA 2017, 21 (1): 1-180

BACKGROUND: Effective programmes to help children manage their weight are required. 'Families for Health' focuses on a parenting approach, designed to help parents develop their parenting skills to support lifestyle change within the family. Families for Health version 1 showed sustained reductions in mean body mass index (BMI) z-score after 2 years in a pilot project.

OBJECTIVE: The aim was to evaluate its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in a randomised controlled trial (RCT).

DESIGN: The trial was a multicentre, investigator-blind RCT, with a parallel economic and process evaluation, with follow-up at 3 and 12 months. Randomisation was by family unit, using a 1 : 1 allocation by telephone registration, stratified by three sites, with a target of 120 families.

SETTING: Three sites in the West Midlands, England, UK.

PARTICIPANTS: Children aged 6-11 years who were overweight (≥ 91st centile BMI) or obese (≥ 98th centile BMI), and their parents/carers. Recruitment was via referral or self-referral.

INTERVENTIONS: Families for Health version 2 is a 10-week, family-based community programme with parallel groups for parents and children, addressing parenting, lifestyle, social and emotional development. Usual care was the treatment for childhood obesity provided within each locality.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Joint primary outcome measures were change in children's BMI z-score and incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained at 12 months' follow-up (QALYs were calculated using the European Quality of Life-5 Dimensions Youth version). Secondary outcome measures included changes in children's waist circumference, percentage body fat, physical activity, fruit/vegetable consumption and quality of life. Parents' BMI and mental well-being, family eating/activity, parent-child relationships and parenting style were also assessed. The process evaluation documented recruitment, reach, dose delivered, dose received and fidelity, using mixed methods.

RESULTS: The study recruited 115 families (128 children; 63 boys and 65 girls), with 56 families randomised to the Families for Health arm and 59 to the 'usual-care' control arm. There was 80% retention of families at 3 months (Families for Health, 46 families; usual care, 46 families) and 72% retention at 12 months (Families for Health, 44 families; usual care, 39 families). The change in BMI z-score at 12 months was not significantly different in the Families for Health arm and the usual-care arm [0.114, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.001 to 0.229; p  = 0.053]. However, within-group analysis showed that the BMI z-score was significantly reduced in the usual-care arm (-0.118, 95% CI -0.203 to -0.034; p  = 0.007), but not in the Families for Health arm (-0.005, 95% CI -0.085 to 0.078; p  = 0.907). There was only one significant difference between groups for secondary outcomes. The economic evaluation, taking a NHS and Personal Social Services perspective, showed that mean costs 12 months post randomisation were significantly higher for Families for Health than for usual care (£998 vs. £548; p  < 0.001). The mean incremental cost-effectiveness of Families for Health was estimated at £552,175 per QALY gained. The probability that the Families for Health programme is cost-effective did not exceed 40% across a range of thresholds. The process evaluation demonstrated that the programme was implemented, as planned, to the intended population and any adjustments did not deviate widely from the handbook. Many families waited more than 3 months to receive the intervention. Facilitators', parents' and children's experiences of Families for Health were largely positive and there were no adverse events. Further analysis could explore why some children show a clinically significant benefit while others have a worse outcome.

CONCLUSIONS: Families for Health was neither effective nor cost-effective for the management of obesity in children aged 6-11 years, in comparison with usual care. Further exploration of the wide range of responses in BMI z-score in children following the Families for Health and usual-care interventions is warranted, focusing on children who had a clinically significant benefit and those who showed a worse outcome with treatment. Further research could focus on the role of parents in the prevention of obesity, rather than treatment.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN45032201.

FUNDING: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment ; Vol. 21, No. 1. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

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