Watching videos about how to cook, eat less and choose healthier foods can help obese children lose weight, reduce their risk of diabetes and become happier, a study has found.
The doctor behind the findings believes they can help in treating childhood obesity because they show that online healthcare can be just as effective as face-to-face appointments.
A team of researchers led by Dr Felix Reschke, of the children’s hospital in Hanover, Germany, studied 108 children who followed the video-based weight loss programme while the country was in its second Covid-19 lockdown in late 2020.
The trial resulted in many participants eating much more fruit and vegetables and far fewer sugary treat foods such as sweets, snacks and soft drinks. In addition, they reduced the number of meals they ate each day, though they still averaged 4.1 meals, as a result of “video-based structured education”.
Overall, two-thirds lost weight and generally displayed better health.
The yearlong programme consisted of the young people watching educational videos about good food choices, the amount they should be eating at mealtimes and the benefits of being physically active. Participants ranged from eight to 17 years old and their average age was 12.
All were already enrolled in the KiCK outpatient healthy living programme for under-18s who were overweight or obese. It was remodelled owing to Covid to become online-only.
It also included educational seminars and workshops, as well as online cooking sessions and discussions about difficult subjects such as “emotional eating” and the health consequences of obesity, which can include diabetes and a higher risk of heart, breathing and joint problems.
Participants displayed “significant improvements” in five key measures of their health. They had a lower body-mass index, reduced risk of developing diabetes, less cholesterol in their bloodstream, better results in a six-minute test of their walking speed, and improved mental welfare.
“Successful treatment of childhood obesity is challenging work, but we have demonstrated that adolescents with pre-existing obesity may be helped through video-based training,” Reschke said. “Participants showed improvements in their dietary choices, appetite control and portion sizes, which was reflected in better measures of their metabolic health and quality of life.”
The results proved that virtual care could help patients as much as in-person consultations, he added.
“Our results are very hopeful that this approach may be a useful and cost-effective model for treating obesity in children. It eliminates the need for regular face-to-face contact, which may be of particular use for those who have difficulty attending appointments. Although we must take care not to unnecessarily increase the amount of screen time used by children. It may be a fine line, but our data suggest this approach is worthwhile.”