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Talking With Families may Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

Physicians and registered dietitians who are trained in a new communication method called motivational interviewing may be able to help families change lifestyle behaviors, according to a study.

Robert Schwartz, M.D., and colleagues conducted a nonrandomized clinical trial in which they asked 91 families about their dietary habits and lifestyle choices. Results from his study are in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"This is an exciting new approach to personal counseling in the pediatrician's office," Schwartz said. "We know that knowledge will not necessarily change behaviors; we are working to find ways to motivate patients to adopt healthier lifestyles. The unique thing about this study is we are learning how to get parents motivated to change their behavioral patterns."

Schwartz and 15 other pediatricians who participate in the Pediatric Research in Office Settings, a national practice-based research network, and five registered dietitians divided families into three groups: a control group, a minimal intervention and an intensive intervention. The control group received no motivational interviewing by a physician or registered dietitian. The minimal intervention group received physician-only counseling and the intensive group received motivational counseling by both a physician and a registered dietitian.

Families were asked about their eating habits, TV viewing, and activity behaviors in all three groups. They used new techniques to help patient's address health issues.

"We know that just talking to patients about good food choices doesn't work," Schwartz said. "Most families know whether they are making good lifestyle choices, but there are skills that pediatricians can learn to help families move toward making changes in their health behaviors. For example, we teach physicians to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions yield more information for
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