Journal Article
Meta-Analysis
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Systematic Review
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Interventions to prevent obesity in children aged 5 to 11 years old.

BACKGROUND: Prevention of obesity in children is an international public health priority given the prevalence of the condition (and its significant impact on health, development and well-being). Interventions that aim to prevent obesity involve behavioural change strategies that promote healthy eating or 'activity' levels (physical activity, sedentary behaviour and/or sleep) or both, and work by reducing energy intake and/or increasing energy expenditure, respectively. There is uncertainty over which approaches are more effective and numerous new studies have been published over the last five years, since the previous version of this Cochrane review.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of interventions that aim to prevent obesity in children by modifying dietary intake or 'activity' levels, or a combination of both, on changes in BMI, zBMI score and serious adverse events.

SEARCH METHODS: We used standard, extensive Cochrane search methods. The latest search date was February 2023.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials in children (mean age 5 years and above but less than 12 years), comparing diet or 'activity' interventions (or both) to prevent obesity with no intervention, usual care, or with another eligible intervention, in any setting. Studies had to measure outcomes at a minimum of 12 weeks post baseline. We excluded interventions designed primarily to improve sporting performance.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard Cochrane methods. Our outcomes were body mass index (BMI), zBMI score and serious adverse events, assessed at short- (12 weeks to < 9 months from baseline), medium- (9 months to < 15 months) and long-term (≥ 15 months) follow-up. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of the evidence for each outcome.

MAIN RESULTS: This review includes 172 studies (189,707 participants); 149 studies (160,267 participants) were included in meta-analyses. One hundred forty-six studies were based in high-income countries. The main setting for intervention delivery was schools (111 studies), followed by the community (15 studies), the home (eight studies) and a clinical setting (seven studies); one intervention was conducted by telehealth and 31 studies were conducted in more than one setting. Eighty-six interventions were implemented for less than nine months; the shortest was conducted over one visit and the longest over four years. Non-industry funding was declared by 132 studies; 24 studies were funded in part or wholly by industry. Dietary interventions versus control Dietary interventions, compared with control, may have little to no effect on BMI at short-term follow-up (mean difference (MD) 0, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.10 to 0.10; 5 studies, 2107 participants; low-certainty evidence) and at medium-term follow-up (MD -0.01, 95% CI -0.15 to 0.12; 9 studies, 6815 participants; low-certainty evidence) or zBMI at long-term follow-up (MD -0.05, 95% CI -0.10 to 0.01; 7 studies, 5285 participants; low-certainty evidence). Dietary interventions, compared with control, probably have little to no effect on BMI at long-term follow-up (MD -0.17, 95% CI -0.48 to 0.13; 2 studies, 945 participants; moderate-certainty evidence) and zBMI at short- or medium-term follow-up (MD -0.06, 95% CI -0.13 to 0.01; 8 studies, 3695 participants; MD -0.04, 95% CI -0.10 to 0.02; 9 studies, 7048 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Five studies (1913 participants; very low-certainty evidence) reported data on serious adverse events: one reported serious adverse events (e.g. allergy, behavioural problems and abdominal discomfort) that may have occurred as a result of the intervention; four reported no effect. Activity interventions versus control Activity interventions, compared with control, may have little to no effect on BMI and zBMI at short-term or long-term follow-up (BMI short-term: MD -0.02, 95% CI -0.17 to 0.13; 14 studies, 4069 participants; zBMI short-term: MD -0.02, 95% CI -0.07 to 0.02; 6 studies, 3580 participants; low-certainty evidence; BMI long-term: MD -0.07, 95% CI -0.24 to 0.10; 8 studies, 8302 participants; zBMI long-term: MD -0.02, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.04; 6 studies, 6940 participants; low-certainty evidence). Activity interventions likely result in a slight reduction of BMI and zBMI at medium-term follow-up (BMI: MD -0.11, 95% CI -0.18 to -0.05; 16 studies, 21,286 participants; zBMI: MD -0.05, 95% CI -0.09 to -0.02; 13 studies, 20,600 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Eleven studies (21,278 participants; low-certainty evidence) reported data on serious adverse events; one study reported two minor ankle sprains and one study reported the incident rate of adverse events (e.g. musculoskeletal injuries) that may have occurred as a result of the intervention; nine studies reported no effect. Dietary and activity interventions versus control Dietary and activity interventions, compared with control, may result in a slight reduction in BMI and zBMI at short-term follow-up (BMI: MD -0.11, 95% CI -0.21 to -0.01; 27 studies, 16,066 participants; zBMI: MD -0.03, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.00; 26 studies, 12,784 participants; low-certainty evidence) and likely result in a reduction of BMI and zBMI at medium-term follow-up (BMI: MD -0.11, 95% CI -0.21 to 0.00; 21 studies, 17,547 participants; zBMI: MD -0.05, 95% CI -0.07 to -0.02; 24 studies, 20,998 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Dietary and activity interventions compared with control may result in little to no difference in BMI and zBMI at long-term follow-up (BMI: MD 0.03, 95% CI -0.11 to 0.16; 16 studies, 22,098 participants; zBMI: MD -0.02, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.01; 22 studies, 23,594 participants; low-certainty evidence). Nineteen studies (27,882 participants; low-certainty evidence) reported data on serious adverse events: four studies reported occurrence of serious adverse events (e.g. injuries, low levels of extreme dieting behaviour); 15 studies reported no effect. Heterogeneity was apparent in the results for all outcomes at the three follow-up times, which could not be explained by the main setting of the interventions (school, home, school and home, other), country income status (high-income versus non-high-income), participants' socioeconomic status (low versus mixed) and duration of the intervention. Most studies excluded children with a mental or physical disability.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The body of evidence in this review demonstrates that a range of school-based 'activity' interventions, alone or in combination with dietary interventions, may have a modest beneficial effect on obesity in childhood at short- and medium-term, but not at long-term follow-up. Dietary interventions alone may result in little to no difference. Limited evidence of low quality was identified on the effect of dietary and/or activity interventions on severe adverse events and health inequalities; exploratory analyses of these data suggest no meaningful impact. We identified a dearth of evidence for home and community-based settings (e.g. delivered through local youth groups), for children living with disabilities and indicators of health inequities.

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