Let’s Get the Parents Involved! Motivational Interviewing & Adolescent Obesity

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February 23, 2015 by Nicholas Spence


It has been found that about 80% of pediatricians indicate frustration in the face of attempts to change children’s obesity. Motivational interviewing and family-centered approaches have been promising areas of focus in the context of obesity management and related lifestyle behaviors. In fact, a new study from the journal Pediatrics has highlighted the role of parental involvement in motivational interviewing interventions aimed at changing obesity related outcomes in adolescents, aged 14-18 years.

A randomized clinical trial, this prospective study followed 357 participants who were divided evenly into three intervention groups: control (passive control); motivational interviewing for adolescents; motivational interviewing for adolescents with parental involvement. The motivational interviewing interventions emphasized improvements in eating and physical activity behavior. A series of relevant clinical outcomes were observed at baseline and 12 months follow-up: anthropometric, biochemical, psychosocial and behavioral.

Consistent with a family-centered approach, the effects of motivational interviewing on adolescents were enhanced with parental involvement, compared to the other two groups. This was the case across most clinical outcomes, with healthy changes in the following: diet (consumption of total calories, dietary and saturated fat, snacks/desserts, and non-diet soda), physical activity (time and energy expenditure), emotional and school functioning, bodyweight (BMI z-score), cholesterol, and triglycerides.

A thought-provoking idea was raised at the end of the work: although motivational interviewing interventions tend to focus on clients with preexisting problems, such as obesity, this tool could play a role in prevention. For example, the application of motivational interviewing in a school setting for non-obese adolescents and their parents could target dietary and physical activity behaviors.

This is a hot area of research as it is client and family-centered, seeking to address the stubborn but important lifestyle behaviors associated with a cluster of health issues, including obesity and chronic disease, plaguing society.

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