Journal Article
Meta-Analysis
Review
Systematic Review
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Interventions to prevent obesity in children aged 12 to 18 years old.

BACKGROUND: Prevention of obesity in adolescents is an international public health priority. The prevalence of overweight and obesity is over 25% in North and South America, Australia, most of Europe, and the Gulf region. Interventions that aim to prevent obesity involve strategies that promote healthy diets 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 adolescents 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 adolescents (mean age 12 years and above but less than 19 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 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 74 studies (83,407 participants); 54 studies (46,358 participants) were included in meta-analyses. Sixty studies were based in high-income countries. The main setting for intervention delivery was schools (57 studies), followed by home (nine studies), the community (five studies) and a primary care setting (three studies). Fifty-one interventions were implemented for less than nine months; the shortest was conducted over one visit and the longest over 28 months. Sixty-two studies declared non-industry funding; five were funded in part by industry. Dietary interventions versus control The evidence is very uncertain about the effects of dietary interventions on body mass index (BMI) at short-term follow-up (mean difference (MD) -0.18, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.41 to 0.06; 3 studies, 605 participants), medium-term follow-up (MD -0.65, 95% CI -1.18 to -0.11; 3 studies, 900 participants), and standardised BMI (zBMI) at long-term follow-up (MD -0.14, 95% CI -0.38 to 0.10; 2 studies, 1089 participants); all very low-certainty evidence. Compared with control, dietary interventions may have little to no effect on BMI at long-term follow-up (MD -0.30, 95% CI -1.67 to 1.07; 1 study, 44 participants); zBMI at short-term (MD -0.06, 95% CI -0.12 to 0.01; 5 studies, 3154 participants); and zBMI at medium-term (MD 0.02, 95% CI -0.17 to 0.21; 1 study, 112 participants) follow-up; all low-certainty evidence. Dietary interventions may have little to no effect on serious adverse events (two studies, 377 participants; low-certainty evidence). Activity interventions versus control Compared with control, activity interventions do not reduce BMI at short-term follow-up (MD -0.64, 95% CI -1.86 to 0.58; 6 studies, 1780 participants; low-certainty evidence) and probably do not reduce zBMI at medium- (MD 0, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.05; 6 studies, 5335 participants) or long-term (MD -0.05, 95% CI -0.12 to 0.02; 1 study, 985 participants) follow-up; both moderate-certainty evidence. Activity interventions do not reduce zBMI at short-term follow-up (MD 0.02, 95% CI -0.01 to 0.05; 7 studies, 4718 participants; high-certainty evidence), but may reduce BMI slightly at medium-term (MD -0.32, 95% CI -0.53 to -0.11; 3 studies, 2143 participants) and long-term (MD -0.28, 95% CI -0.51 to -0.05; 1 study, 985 participants) follow-up; both low-certainty evidence. Seven studies (5428 participants; low-certainty evidence) reported data on serious adverse events: two reported injuries relating to the exercise component of the intervention and five reported no effect of intervention on reported serious adverse events. Dietary and activity interventions versus control Dietary and activity interventions, compared with control, do not reduce BMI at short-term follow-up (MD 0.03, 95% CI -0.07 to 0.13; 11 studies, 3429 participants; high-certainty evidence), and probably do not reduce BMI at medium-term (MD 0.01, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.11; 8 studies, 5612 participants; moderate-certainty evidence) or long-term (MD 0.06, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.16; 6 studies, 8736 participants; moderate-certainty evidence) follow-up. They may have little to no effect on zBMI in the short term, but the evidence is very uncertain (MD -0.09, 95% CI -0.2 to 0.02; 3 studies, 515 participants; very low-certainty evidence), and they may not reduce zBMI at medium-term (MD -0.05, 95% CI -0.1 to 0.01; 6 studies, 3511 participants; low-certainty evidence) or long-term (MD -0.02, 95% CI -0.05 to 0.01; 7 studies, 8430 participants; low-certainty evidence) follow-up. Four studies (2394 participants) reported data on serious adverse events (very low-certainty evidence): one reported an increase in weight concern in a few adolescents and three reported no effect.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The evidence demonstrates that dietary interventions may have little to no effect on obesity in adolescents. There is low-certainty evidence that activity interventions may have a small beneficial effect on BMI at medium- and long-term follow-up. Diet plus activity interventions may result in little to no difference. Importantly, this updated review also suggests that interventions to prevent obesity in this age group may result in little to no difference in serious adverse effects. Limitations of the evidence include inconsistent results across studies, lack of methodological rigour in some studies and small sample sizes. Further research is justified to investigate the effects of diet and activity interventions to prevent childhood obesity in community settings, and in young people with disabilities, since very few ongoing studies are likely to address these. Further randomised trials to address the remaining uncertainty about the effects of diet, activity interventions, or both, to prevent childhood obesity in schools (ideally with zBMI as the measured outcome) would need to have larger samples.

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