Paediatric teams in front of childhood obesity: A qualitative study within the STOP project

In the Balearic Islands, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is 14.7% and 10.4% prospectively. A new study published in the framework of the STOP project assessed the attitudes and feelings of Spanish paediatric staff in addressing overweight and childhood obesity to parents, exploring the perceived barriers and facilitators, for effective care. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 57 paediatricians in Mallorca, Spain.

The European Union (EU) has deployed an unprecedented research effort to support an improved understanding of the root causes of childhood obesity and the development of effective policies to address obesity and associated inequities, both in the short- and long term. Understanding the underlying factors that influence the success of childhood overweight and obesity treatment is pivotal to best support families searching for a solution for the growing epidemic in Europe and beyond.  Childhood obesity is a particular concern given the extent to which it is associated with higher BMI later in life. Research indicates that children and adolescents living with obesity were 5 times more likely to be obese in adulthood compared to their peers.

The study reaffirmed that childhood obesity treatment is influenced by:

  1. Parental attitude towards childhood obesity – how willing they are to recognise its importance when informed and to demand help.
  2. Paediatric healthcare workers approach to care – whether they show empathy, trust, and respect, tailoring interventions to the family circumstances. A positive, joint solution-seeking approach is recommended, putting the family in the driving seat when identifying treatment options.
  3. Systemic factors – the health care system, at the primary care level, and the workload of health care professionals. The nature of collaboration across staff and recognition of obesity as a chronic, relapsing disease that needs a life course approach.

Parents often fail to recognise the urgency of seeking support for their children – in part due to a lack of awareness and sensitivity. In Spain, parents do not generally perceive excess weight as a health problem. This mindset may emerge from guilt or fear of being judged by others, including the stigma associated with living with overweight or obesity. The research revealed the competence of paediatricians to treat childhood obesity when provided with adequate training on how to motivate caregivers. Building a trustful relationship between paediatricians and caregivers was a key facilitator of effective care, yet the fragmented health care system in Spain still fails to deliver desirable support for paediatric weight management and prevention.

In summary, a step in the right direction for Paediatric teams in front of childhood obesity would involve:

  1. Motivating patients and families to seek support for their children
  2. Building trust between parents/children and the paediatric care team. they should be involved in coming up with potential solutions particularly related to diet and lifestyle habits such as physical activity
  3. Integrating paediatric care into primary care delivery, with enhanced collaboration with teachers, exercise and sports professionals and the mass media.

You can read the full paper here.