Enrolment of families with overweight children into a program aimed at reducing childhood obesity with and without a weight criterion: a natural experiment
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BACKGROUND: Difficulties engaging families with overweight children to enrol into programs aimed at reducing childhood obesity have been well documented. During the implementation of the Parenting, Eating and Activity for Child Health Program (PEACH™) over a large geographical area (Queensland (QLD), Australia), a natural experiment developed. This experiment provided an opportunity to observe if there was a difference in enrolment for families with overweight children with a weight criterion (referred to as the period with a Targeted Eligibility Criterion (TEC)) compared to when a weight criterion was removed (the period referred to as Universal Eligibility Criterion (UEC)). We also examined the eligibility criterion’s relationship with attendance, parental concern about their child’s weight, estimation of overweight and obesity from parent-reported data. METHODS: A secondary analysis of baseline data from 926 overweight/obese children from 817 families enrolled in PEACH™ QLD was performed. Analyses were adjusted to control for the presence of clustered data. Bivariate statistics were performed using Pearson chi-square test with the second-order Rao-Scott correction, and Mann–Whitney U-test for non-parametric continuous variables. Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) explored the association between weight status-based eligibility criteria and enrolment of overweight children. GEE were adjusted for sex, age and socioeconomic index and stratified for weight category. RESULTS: Compared to obese children, overweight children were almost twice as likely to be enrolled when the program did not have weight status-based eligibility criteria (during UEC period) (OR = 1.90 (CI 95% 1.35–2.68, p < 0.001)). Parents of overweight children enrolled during the UEC period were more likely to regard their child’s weight as less of a concern than during the TEC period (UEC 67% vs. TEC 45%, p = 0.036). Children whose parent-reported data underestimated their weight category were more likely to be enrolled while the program did not have weight-related eligibility criteria OR = 2.27 (CI 1.38–3.70, p < 0.01). Program session attendance did not appear to be impacted by the changes in eligibility criteria. CONCLUSIONS: The omission of weight criteria for healthy lifestyle programs is a consideration for health professionals and decision-makers alike when encouraging the enrolment of children who are overweight into healthy lifestyle programs.
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