Children's hospital pioneers family diet plan

Success for Great Ormond Street in new programme to tackle childhood obesity
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A new treatment to cure childhood obesity has achieved remarkable resultsat the country's leading children's hospital.

The programme, piloted at Great Ormond Street Hospital over the past year, is being acclaimed as a "breakthrough" in tackling the obesity epidemic. Senior consultants claim it has resulted in dramatic weight reductions. On average, children were 10 per cent less overweight at the end of the 10-week pilot study. The hospital treated 34 children in just over 12 months.

The family-based behaviour therapy programme is based on a "traffic light" approach to food: red for chocolate, crisps and takeaways; amber for protein, carbohydrates and dairy products; green for fruit and vegetables.

Children and their families attended weekly therapy sessions, where they were given instruction on diet and exercise. All members of the family were encouraged to eat more healthily, be more active and support the child. They were encouraged to walk or run daily and given pedometers to measure how far. Calorie intake was monitored through food diaries and measured against the amount of exercise taken.

The pilot has been so successful that its organisers are now calling for funding to enable the "Traffic Light Programme" to be rolled out nationwide.

It is estimated that there are more than half a million obese children in the UK, with another two million classed as "overweight". The figures have increased threefold over the past 20 years and have been linked to the growth of coronary heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes and osteoarthritis in later life.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Russell Viner said: "A 10 per cent decrease in overweight is a huge achievement. Obesity is very hard to shift and this treatment is the best it gets at the moment. Obesity is the biggest public health problem affecting children and teenagers. We spend a huge amount of money on the consequences, but little on treatment or prevention. Further studies are needed to try and get this treatment out to more kids."

The tests were carried out in conjunction with the charity Weight Concern UK. Professor Jane Wardle, the charity's honorary clinical director and director of the health behaviour unit at University College London, said: "The first results are very promising and offer real hope for parents with overweight children. This is a big step forward. Now what we need is funding for further trials."

Azmini Govindji of the British Dietetic Association said: "What is particularly encouraging is that this is an initiative involving the whole family. Research shows that group therapy of this type can be very useful."

Faye Marshall-Butler, one of the 34 children who took part in the pilot scheme, managed to keep her weight down to 12 stone, reducing her body mass index "significantly". Faye, from Eltham in south-east London, now aged 12, has lost eight pounds - and for the first time in her life she has stopped putting on weight while getting taller.

Her mother, Christine Butler, said the change since the start of the programme in March, in terms of both her daughter's weight and attitude, had been remarkable.

"I was really, really concerned with Faye's weight before, because it just kept leaping up," said Ms Butler. "Her appetite was enormous and I was getting so desperate that I even considered taking her to America for treatment. We found Weight Concern on the internet, and they introduced us to the Traffic Light Programme. As a result, Faye stopped putting on weight. Her confidence and self-esteem have improved no end.

"You have to do the programme as a family, and that helps you sort out where you are at fault, in terms of things like buying patterns. Now Faye doesn't watch so much TV, but we do things together instead, like go for walks. It is better for all of us."

Faye's father, Paul Marshall, 47, said: "Before, in terms of weight gain, we couldn't see a way of stemming the tide, but now we can. It has stopped her putting on the weight, and as Faye grows, she should come back into the normal window for her age. She is happier and more confident. This has been a revelation: a positive move for the whole family. It should definitely be available nationally."

One 12-year-old's change of diet


Breakfast: Large bowl of cereal with extra sugar, plus lots of toast

Lunch: Packed lunch of crisps, chocolate bar, yoghurt, fizzy drink and sandwiches

Snacks: At least two full plates of snacks in the afternoon, including sandwiches and chocolate. Regularly consumed yoghurt six-pack daily. Stash of sweets kept in bedroom

Dinner: Chips featured heavily. Other vegetables avoided. At least two takeaways a week, normally McDonald's or KFC

Drinks: A Coca-Cola "addict"

Lifestyle: At least two hours of television a day usually combined with large snacks. Almost no exercise taken.


Breakfast: Fruit or cereal without sugar

Lunch: Smaller packed lunch, with a sandwich or pitta bread with lean meat, salad and fruit. Chocolate bars and yoghurts a rare treat

Snacks: Cut down. Fewer snacks kept in the home. All food recorded in a diary

Dinner: Jacket and new potatoes replace chips. Menu also features pasta, rice and chicken. Peas and sweetcorn now eaten. One takeaway a fortnight allowed as a treat

Drink: Semi-skimmed milk and fruit juice. No Coca-Cola

Lifestyle: Much less TV. Regular meals and only eaten in dining room. Long walks with dog, cycling, netball and hockey, and using a gym.