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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

A family-based education program for obesity: a three-year study

Rita Tanas13*, Renzo Marcolongo23, Stefania Pedretti1 and Giuseppe Gilli4

Author Affiliations

1 Pediatric Department, Azienda Ospedaliera-Universitaria S. Anna, Ferrara, Italy

2 Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Azienda Ospedaliera-Università, Padova, Italy

3 Therapeutic Education Laboratory, Padova, Italy

4 Programmer, Health Physics Department, Azienda Ospedaliera-Universitaria S. Anna, Ferrara, Italy

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BMC Pediatrics 2007, 7:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-7-33

Published: 22 October 2007



The epidemic of obesity is increasing in all countries. However, the number of controlled studies focusing on childhood obesity, with a long follow-up is still limited. Even though Behavioral Therapy shows some efficacy, it requires a prolonged teamwork that is not always available in public health settings. In addition, Behavioral Therapy is not always accepted. We describe a new intensive and sustainable family-based, Therapeutic Education program for childhood obesity.


Controlled clinical study: a family-based Therapeutic Education program without dietetic prescription involving overweight and obese children/adolescents, without evident psychological troubles, and their families. The program consisted of three clinical and therapeutic education sessions, carried out by a single physician. Further sessions were carried out every six months in the first year and then every year.

Study population: 190 overweight children, 85 treated with a therapeutic education program (45 males and 40 females, mean age of 10.43 ± 3) with an average BMI% of 154.72 ± 19.6% and 105 matched children, treated with traditional dietary approach.

Children's Body Mass Index (BMI) % and BMI Standard Deviation Score measured at baseline and after a three year-follow-up, were compared. Statistical tests: ANOVA-RM (repeated measures) controlled for distribution by Kolmogorov-Smirnov, Bartlett's test or correspondent non-parametric procedures, X2 tests or Fisher's exact test and simple linear regression.


After a follow-up of 2.7 ± 1.1 years, 72.9% of the children who followed the Therapeutic Education Program obtained a BMI% reduction, compared to 42.8% of children who followed the traditional dietary treatment. Weight reduction was good in moderately obese children and in the severely obese. In addition, a smaller proportion of children treated with therapeutic education had negative results (BMI increase of >10%) compared to those treated with dietary approach (11.8% vs. 25.7%); finally, periodic phone calls reduced the drop-out rate in the therapeutic education group.


These results indicate the efficacy and sustainability of the Therapeutic Education program, that was completely carried out by a single pediatrician; in addition, it met with an elevated participant acceptance, suggesting a convenient therapeutic solution for skilled pediatricians and selected obese children, when Behavioral Therapy is not available or teamwork is poor.