To search for, review and synthesise studies of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of weight management schemes for the under fives.
MEDLINE [Ovid], MEDLINE In-Process [Ovid], EMBASE [Ovid], CAB [Ovid], Health Management Information Consortium [Ovid], The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials, Science Citation Index Expanded [Web of Science], Conference Proceedings Citation Index [The Web of Science], Database of Abstract Reviews [CRD; Centre for Reviews and Dissemination], HTA [CRD], PsycINFO [Ebsco], NHS CRD. These databases were searched from 1990 to February 2009. Supplementary internet searches were additionally conducted.
Relevant clinical effectiveness studies were identified in two stages. Titles and abstracts returned by the search strategy were examined independently by three researchers and screened for possible inclusion. Disagreements were resolved by discussion. Full texts of the identified studies were obtained. Three researchers examined these independently for inclusion or exclusion, and disagreements were again resolved by discussion.
One of the randomised controlled trials (RCTs) was from the UK. It measured the effects of a physical activity intervention for children in nurseries combined with home-based health education for their parents; this was compared to usual care. The main outcome measure was body mass index (BMI); secondary measures were weight and physical activity. At the 12-month follow-up, no statistically significant differences were found between the groups on any measure. However, a trend, favouring the intervention, was found for BMI and weight. The other two RCTs were from the USA. The larger trial investigated the effects of a combined preschool and home intervention in African American and Latino communities. Nutrition education and physical activity programmes were aimed at under fives in preschool. The home component consisted of related health education and homework for the parents, who received a small financial reward on completion. The 1- and 2-year results for the African American sites showed a significantly slower rate of increase in BMI than for results at baseline, for the intervention group than for the control group. However, in the Latino communities no such differences were found. The second US trial was a much smaller home-based parental education programme in Native American communities in the USA and Canada. The intervention consisted of a parental skills course for parents to improve their children's diet and physical activity. This was compared with a course providing skills to improve child behaviour. Follow-up was at 16 weeks and showed no significant differences between groups in BMI.
No controlled trials addressing the issue of treating obesity or evidence of cost-effectiveness studies in the under fives' population were found. From the three prevention studies, apart from the larger US trial, the interventions showed no statistically significant differences in BMI and weight between the intervention and control groups (although there was some evidence of positive trends for BMI and weight). It should also be noted that these conclusions are based on only three dissimilar studies, thereby making the drawing of firm conclusions difficult. Research is urgently needed in further well-designed UK-based RCTs of weight management schemes aimed at the prevention of obesity, that combine with cost-effectiveness studies targeted at preschool children with long-term follow-up.