Overweight and obesity in children and adolescents are prevalent, have several long lasting medical and psychosocial comorbidities and post a serious burden on society. Tackling weight problems at an early age in a sustainable way is therefore of utmost importance. Earlier studies of the UGhent and the UZA research groups, showed that in the short term a multidisciplinary obesity treatment (MOT) focusing on behavioral lifestyle approach, has a positive impact on weight and comorbidities. However, existing therapies have only limited success, specifically at long-term. One explanation for these modest results relates to poor executive functions (EFs, e.g., attention, inhibition) in overweight and obesity. EFs are needed for self-control and resisting temptation.
The UGhent group investigates since 2011, as the first group worldwide, the potential of EF-training strengthening self-control capacities in obese youth and proved that a computerized EF-training on top of an evidence-based MOT enhances EFs of obese youth, and increases their capability to maintain weight loss until 8 weeks after treatment. This proof-of-concept for the present project is strengthened by recent international studies showing that training individuals to control responses to high-calorie foods via computerized tasks results in weight loss.
We aim to show now that adding computerized EF-training to evidence-based MOT further improves weight maintenance until 6-month after MOT and ameliorates medical and psychosocial comorbidities. We will test this in a multicenter longitudinal, prospective randomized RCT. During the regular MOT, 200 obese youngsters (8-18 years) will be randomized on a 1/1 base to either a 6 week EF-training or an active control condition, followed by 8 weekly (training or control) booster sessions. The effects of the EF-training will be measured immediately after the MOT, at 2 month and 6 month. We expect significant effect of EF-training on 1) weight loss maintenance up to 6-months after MOT, 2) EF and 3) comorbidities and related to health benefits.
The project partner's extensive professional network and close collaboration with the different partners from the advisory board (BASO, VVK and Eetexpert.be vzw) allows for the broad dissemination of the project results to different target groups. The EF-training (and manual) will be presented to different MOT centers. A train-the-trainer program will be developed. Press releases, communications to the general public and appropriate stakeholders (e.g., health authorities, medical societies and youth health organizations) and scientific presentations and publications will report on the project's activities and results.