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Keywords:

  • Children;
  • obesity;
  • systematic review;
  • weight management

Summary

Overweight and obesity in pre-school children are an increasing problem, with poor diet and exercise habits laying the foundation for serious health risks in later life. Yet most research into childhood obesity has focused on school-age children. Two previous systematic reviews of pre-school children have included uncontrolled designs and self-report outcomes potentially biasing the results in favour of the interventions. We have conducted a systematic review of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of weight management schemes for the under fives restricting the inclusion criteria to controlled trials with objective measures. We found four effectiveness randomized controlled trials of prevention. No treatment or cost-effectiveness studies were found. Only one study in a Latino community showed a statistically significant advantage from the intervention in a slower rate of increase in body mass index. However, trends in decrease in body mass index and weight loss favoured the intervention groups in other studies. From the studies characteristics we hypothesize that important features to include in future interventions may be; cultural sensitivity, sustained moderate to vigorous exercise, active engagement of the parents in the programme and as role models of healthy living and active engagement of the children in nutrition education. Further randomized controlled trials are needed in this population.