An international study has found a key to reducing childhood obesity can be found within the lunchbox.
Led by University of Newcastle Laureate Professor Clare Collins, the study was a world-first review of more than 100 dietary interventions for children and adolescents living with obesity.
The aim of the study was to investigate which approaches were most effective in improving dietary intake.
Following investigations into an array of approaches, findings showed personalised, nutrition-led guidance was an effective strategy to achieving long term dietary changes.
“If you take away all the bells and whistles suggested to families such as when to eat and when not to eat,” Professor Collins said.
“The message is – if people work on reducing their total energy intake by changing the types and amount of foods selected, such as increasing their fruit and vegetable intake and cutting down on sweetened soft drink, it will have a positive impact.”
Childhood obesity remains a worldwide problem, with figures showing the number of children aged five to 19 who are above a healthy weight range has increased from four per cent to 18 per cent between 1975 and 2016.
Changes to diet are recommended as a key strategy to managing weight-related health in children.
“The bottom line is, even modest changes, sustained over time, are important,” Professor Collins said.
The review assessed changes in diets by measuring total energy consumed, nutrients, food groups, diet quality and eating behaviours.
It found that small changes to diet had a modest, yet sustained impact on improving intakes of specific food groups in children and adolescents with obesity.
“These messages seem obvious, but most interventions include a lot of other suggestions,” she said.
“People don’t need to do fad diets.”
Professor Collins said families should reassess what they pack in the lunchbox.
“Surprisingly, at a population level, it is unusual for people to actually eat enough fruit and vegetables,” she said.
“Food-based guidance, tailored for individuals and families, delivered by qualified dietitians, appears to be more effective in achieving longer-term dietary changes, rather than the provision of general dietary advice only.
“Even if energy intake (junk food) does not continue to decrease, small changes are enough to lower body weight over time.
“It comes down to swapping something like a muesli bar for an apple, soft drink for water.
“The small changes add up.
“What you put in the lunchbox, or give for afternoon tea, really matters.”