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Web-based teen weight interventions may not work in long term

November 07, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Using the Web for an intervention to get kids to eat more healthfully and exercise may not be that effective in the long term, a study finds.
Using the Web for an intervention to get kids to eat more healthfully and… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )

Web-based interventions to help teens eat better and exercise more may show some benefits in the short term, but not in the long term.

A study of 883 12- and 13-year-olds in the Netherlands found that a Web-based intervention program designed to help them eat more fruits and vegetables, drink fewer sugary beverages and increase their activity found that a few strategies worked after four months, not not two years later.

The students were randomly assigned to take part in the program or continue their regular diet and activity regimen. Those in the intervention engaged in an interactive curriculum that included a health education component, tailored feedback on their behavior, plus opportunities to plan and set goals. In addition to reviewing results among all the students, researchers also looked at a sub-group considered at risk if they didn't meet any of the behavioral guidelines at the beginning of the study, such as eating fruits and vegetables and getting exercise.

First, the good news: After four months, those in the Web group were less likely to drink more than about a pint a day of a sugar-sweetened beverage compared with the control group -- but not the at-risk group. Those in the intervention group ate fewer snacks than the controls. The at-risk students in the intervention group ate more fruit than those in the control group, and the intervention group and the at-risk kids in that group ate more vegetables than controls.

However, no differences in the groups were seen for eating more whole-wheat bread, and after four months the at-risk kids in the intervention group were less likely to be involved in sports compared with the control group.

Hardly any of the positive changes were noticeable after two years. The at-risk children in the intervention group did report taking more steps at the two-year mark compared with controls. Web-based interventions like these are often touted as a viable way for kids to slim down, because computers are so much a part of their lives.

The authors noted that in other studies more benefits were seen among health-promoting programs when there was a multipronged approach that included the family and community. "To promote physical activity in the school setting," they wrote, "computer-tailored programs might need to be accompanied by family, community, and/or environmental interventions."

The study was released online Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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