Given the rising rates of obesity in children and adolescents, developing evidence-based weight loss or weight maintenance interventions that can be widely disseminated, well implemented, and are highly scalable is a public health necessity. Such interventions should ensure that adolescents establish healthy weight regulation practices while also reducing eating disorder risk.
This study describes an online program, StayingFit, which has two tracks for universal and targeted delivery and was designed to enhance healthy living skills, encourage healthy weight regulation, and improve weight/shape concerns among high school adolescents.
Ninth grade students in two high schools in the San Francisco Bay area and in St Louis were invited to participate. Students who were overweight (body mass index [BMI] >85th percentile) were offered the weight management track of StayingFit; students who were normal weight were offered the healthy habits track. The 12-session program included a monitored discussion group and interactive self-monitoring logs. Measures completed pre- and post-intervention included self-report height and weight, used to calculate BMI percentile for age and sex and standardized BMI (zBMI), Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) nutrition data, the Weight Concerns Scale, and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.
A total of 336 students provided informed consent and were included in the analyses. The racial breakdown of the sample was as follows: 46.7% (157/336) multiracial/other, 31.0% (104/336) Caucasian, 16.7% (56/336) African American, and 5.7% (19/336) did not specify; 43.5% (146/336) of students identified as Hispanic/Latino. BMI percentile and zBMI significantly decreased among students in the weight management track. BMI percentile and zBMI did not significantly change among students in the healthy habits track, demonstrating that these students maintained their weight. Weight/shape concerns significantly decreased among participants in both tracks who had elevated weight/shape concerns at baseline. Fruit and vegetable consumption increased for both tracks. Physical activity increased among participants in the weight management track, while soda consumption and television time decreased.
Results suggest that an Internet-based, universally delivered, targeted intervention may support healthy weight regulation, improve weight/shape concerns among participants with eating disorders risk, and increase physical activity in high school students. Tailored content and interactive features to encourage behavior change may lead to sustainable improvements in adolescent health.