Motivational Interviewing in Childhood Obesity Treatment: Does it Work?

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December 25, 2015 by Nicholas Spence

does it workThe evidence base supporting the use of motivational interviewing across a number of health issues, including smoking, diabetes, substance abuse, and weight loss, continues to grow. Of particular relevance to our research group is its potential utility in treating childhood obesity. A new study in Frontiers in Psychology,  based out of Italy, by Maria Borrello and colleagues sought to examine this issue.

This review examined studies that applied motivational interviewing to treat childhood obesity, which was operationalized using the BMI (body mass index percentiles specific to age and gender), with a focus on overweight or obese children from 2 to 11 years. It covered studies published between 2007 and June 2014.

The body of work eligible for examination was very small (6), focusing on research designs of good quality, including experimental or quasi-experimental studies.

So the big question: does it work? Given the current state of evidence, we do not know. Despite half of the studies demonstrating a positive effect of motivational interviewing on BMI and obesity related behavior outcomes (e.g., TV viewing, calories consumed, physical exercise), the evidence is far from conclusive.

Why? There are three main reasons: the amount of existing work is very small; major methodological weaknesses, including small sample size, non-randomization, and poor participation in intervention activities; and insufficient evidence of existing studies truly delivering motivational interviewing in study interventions, given the absence of assessment of motivational interviewing skills (e.g, Motivational Interviewing Treatment Integrity [MITI]) and insufficient details regarding training of interviewers.

No doubt, moving forward, this will be the subject of much research!

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