Published October 26, 2016
Making evidence-based family weight-loss programs more widely accessible is the aim of a new Department of Pediatrics study.
A five-year, $8.8 million National Institutes of Health grant will provide funding for the weight-loss programs to begin in spring 2017 in local primary care offices and in Rochester, New York; Columbus, Ohio; and St. Louis.
Studies have shown weight-loss programs for children and parents are far more successful when the whole family is treated together, according to Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of pediatrics and chief of behavioral medicine, who pioneered the family-based approach to weight loss and is principal investigator on the grant.
Such programs are traditionally located in specialty clinics, unavailable to the general public.
“The purpose of this grant is to implement and evaluate highly successful family-based obesity treatment in the primary care setting, an optimal setting given the established relationship between patients and their primary care providers,” Epstein says.
Epstein is an internationally recognized expert on childhood weight control and family intervention, and he is one of the most productive investigators in behavioral medicine and nutrition.
During one 10-year study of overweight children who had participated in Epstein’s research, the percentage able to maintain a healthy weight at 10-year follow-up was 50 percent, far higher than the usual percentage, which is typically 10 percent or less.
The grant is an example of translational research that aims to take findings from the laboratory and implement them in the real-world clinical setting. That was the focus of the $15 million Clinical and Translational Science Award received last fall by UB and its partners, which put UB into a select group of medical schools nationwide that are leading translational research.
Epstein notes his current grant will take a multidisciplinary “team science” approach, which is characteristic of translational research. He is partnering with Teresa Quattrin, MD, A. Conger Goodyear Professor and chair of pediatrics. A UB Distinguished Professor, Quattrin is chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes and president of UBMD Pediatrics.
Quattrin’s research also underscores the success of family-based weight-loss treatment. Her 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that preschoolers in a family weight-control program experienced normal weight gain while peers in a control group that focused only on the child gained more weight. At the same time, parents in the family weight-loss program lost an average of 14 pounds, while parents in the control group didn’t lose weight.
“That pivotal trial demonstrated that family-based treatment can be implemented in the primary care setting, leading to more weight loss in children and parents compared to treating the child alone,” Quattrin says.
“In this new phase, we will further extend this experience to answer the challenge of translating this experience across different clinical realities around the country in a multicenter trial treating 6- to 12-year-old children and parents who are overweight or obese,” she says.
The new study will compare two weight-control approaches in more than a dozen primary care providers’ offices. One group will get an enhanced version of the standard treatment, where parent and child receive information on healthy eating and are seen by the physician four times over two years.
Families receiving the intervention will be seen in the doctor’s office by their own physician as well as by health counselors trained to deliver family-based weight-control programs tailored to the needs of each family.
“With this grant, we are placing health coaches on the front lines,” Epstein says.
A key goal of the grant is to find out how primary care providers’ offices can best deliver weight-control assistance to their patients.
“We want to know how to overcome some of the barriers — such as staffing, space, funding and attitudes — that primary care practices may face when using empirically tested research in treatment programs,” Epstein says.
“We will have to find ways to help them provide services they traditionally haven’t had the time to provide at the pace the families need for ultimate success and on a flexible schedule that can best accommodate patients,” he adds.
Western New York primary care practices that will be participating in the study are: Delaware Pediatrics, Integrity Health Group and Williamsville Pediatric Center.
“The UB study of family-based behavioral treatment offers us a unique opportunity to provide an evidence-based multicomponent intervention to improve treatment outcomes for our patients,” says Steven Lana, MD, managing partner of Delaware Pediatrics.
“We are eager to support this project because we witness the early start of obesity complications that can significantly influence the children and families in our practice,” he notes.
The grant will allow the programs to treat more than 500 families, reaching more than 1,000 overweight or obese children and parents as well as more than 200 siblings who are overweight or obese.