Program Of Nutrition, Exercise Shows Success In Black Girl Weight Loss

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An NIH-funded program that combined exercise, nutrition education, field trips and other activities was more successful than a self-esteem program in helping black girls lose weight and keep it off for two years, according to a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. The program is part of a national effort by NIH to develop and test strategies to help black girls avoid obesity and related health problems. Black girls are at the highest risk of becoming obese later in life, study principal investigator Robert Klesges said.

The study looked at 303 girls who were ages eight to 10 at the time the study began. Forty-one percent of the girls were considered overweight, though none were considered obese. Study participants over two years met weekly and later monthly to focus on diet and exercise or self esteem. At the study's conclusion, the girls in the diet-and-exercise group reported eating 90 fewer calories daily and consuming fewer sweetened drinks and eating slightly more vegetables than girls in the self-esteem group. Thirty percent of overweight girls in the first group lost weight and were able to keep that weight off for two years, compared with 15% of girls in the second group.

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According to the Commercial Appeal, there was no difference in amount of exercise reported by the girls in the two groups. According to Klesges, neither intervention had any effect on girls who were of normal weight at the beginning of the study.

Klesges said, "We emphasized real simple strategies that were within the control of the girls. So, rather than choosing a cola drink, we would emphasize (to the girls), why don't you get water, or if you can't do water, why don't you at least get a diet cola?" Klesges said that while the program targeted black girls, it is designed to work within other groups or community settings.

Marian Levy, director of the University of Memphis graduate public health program, said, "It is a very important study," adding, "It shows just by making simple dietary changes you can have an impact on weight and health" (Powers, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 11/25).

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