New tool tackles childhood obesity

A new computerised tool to support general practitioners and paediatricians in the management of childhood obesity has been developed by La Trobe University.

An international study led by La Trobe researcher George Moschonis, Head of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, trialled the Personalised Nutrition for Growth (PN4Growth) tool on 65 families with obese or overweight children.

Associate Professor Moschonis said he created the decision-support tool to help fill a major healthcare gap.

“General practitioners, family doctors and paediatricians have a key role among health experts in prospectively and frequently monitoring children,” Associate Professor Moschonis said.

“They are our first shield of defence when it comes to tackling obesity. But, the reality is, they don’t have enough resources.

“This simple two-step system tackles this issue head on, empowering health professionals to conduct a thorough assessment of their patients and provide tailor-made diet and lifestyle advice.”

Associate Professor Moschonis said he is eager to secure funding to expand the study into Australia.

“We know that almost one quarter of children in Australia, aged 5 to 17, were overweight or obese in 2017 to 2018,” Professor Moschonis said.

“I want to do whatever I can to support health care practitioners in tackling this epidemic as efficiently as possible.”

How PN4Growth works

Health professionals will conduct a questionnaire with a patient and parent(s) of the patient. The answers to the questionnaire are then loaded into a software program that gives five assessments:

  1. Current weight status (underweight, normal, overweight or obese)
  2. Likelihood for the future manifestation of obesity in normal-weight children
  3. Evaluation of the most appropriate body weight management goal
  4. Estimation of children’s dietary energy and macronutrients intake needs
  5. The delivery of a personalised diet and lifestyle management plan

Trial results

The trial was conducted in Greece over a period of three months and involved 65 overweight or obese children aged six to 12.

The children were separated into two groups – 35 received personalised care using the two-step system, while 30 were given general advice from their health care practitioner.

The group receiving personalised intervention averaged:

  • 4.1g increase in dietary fibre intake per day

    (higher than the dietary fibre provided by an orange or two slices of whole-wheat bread)

  • 4.6g decrease in sugar intake per day

    (equates to about one teaspoon of sugar)

  • A decrease in the consumption of sweet or savoury snacks by approximately 3.5 portions per week, which equates to a large chocolate bar; a packet of biscuits; a large piece of cake; or a large bag of potato chips

The group receiving only general advice increased their body weight and waist circumference two and threefold respectively, compared to their peers that received the personalised intervention.

“The aim of the intervention program is not to reduce body weight, since this may also negatively affect growth, but to control children’s rate of weight gain in the healthiest way possible.”

This study was published in Nutrients, and conducted in conjunction with Harokopio University of Athens, children’s hospitals P. A. Kyriakou and Aghia Sophia, and the University of Athens Medical School.

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