Little Changes Take Big Bite Out Of
Weight, ECU Study Says
Small dietary changes might
not seem important, but they can go a long way toward helping children
achieve a healthy weight, according to an evaluation of childhood
obesity projects conducted statewide.
East Carolina University
(ECU) researchers reviewed the results of 19 childhood obesity projects
funded by the N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund that aimed to help
North Carolina children achieve a healthy weight.
ECU researchers looked at
1,346 children from 4 to 18 years old who were grouped into one of four
categories when the projects began: underweight, healthy weight,
overweight and obese. Forty-four percent were overweight or obese when
the projects began. These children were followed for three years.
Using approaches such as
nutrition lessons that encourage less sweet beverage consumption and
more fruit and vegetable consumption, 90 percent of the children stayed
in their weight category or improved. Most of the 19 projects focused
on nutrition education, such as a cooking class for children, and
During the projects, the
percentage of children who chose fruits over traditional snack foods
climbed from 13.3 to 17.5 percent. Physical activity, however, did not
change much overall, researchers said.
"These projects have
demonstrated that even small dietary changes can make a difference,"
said lead researcher Dr. Lauren Whetstone, a clinical associate
professor of family medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU.
"While physical activity may well have played a role, outcomes were
largely achieved by the dietary changes that took place, at least in
Among overweight and obese
children in the study, 51 percent improved their weight category. For
some, improving their weight category meant they actually lost weight.
For others, it meant they grew taller while maintaining their weight.
Some did both.
"These projects were
developed and implemented at the local level with a small amount of
resources," said Dr. Kathryn Kolasa, a nutritionist and professor of
family medicine and pediatrics at ECU. "The positive results show these
projects deserve to be sustained and expanded throughout North
According to the advocacy
group Trust for America's Health, more than 16 percent of North
Carolina children ages 10 to 17 are overweight.
Most of the projects were
conducted by local health departments, school systems, after-school
programs or community-based organizations. For example, Pitt County
Schools received $449,000 to fund several projects that encouraged
students to make healthy food choices and be more active, said Alice
Keene, special projects coordinator for Pitt County Community Schools
and Recreation. She said long-term behavioral change is needed to help
children achieve healthy weights.
"We are extremely pleased
with the positive outcomes of our project and are committed to trying
to find ways to sustain our programs and interventions over time,"
Keene said. "We are making progress; therefore, we must stay the
The projects were part of the
Health and Wellness Trust Fund's childhood obesity grant program, which
aims to reduce obesity and encourage healthful lifestyles in the state.
Projects across the state each received approximately $300,000 to
$400,000 over three years. The full report is available online at
The N.C. Health and Wellness
Trust Fund funds programs that promote preventive health. Created by
the General Assembly in 2000 to allocate a portion of North Carolina's
share of the national tobacco settlement, the fund has invested $143
million to support preventive health projects and $102 million to fund
prescription drug assistance programs.
For more information on N.C.
Health and Wellness, visit www.healthwellnc.com.