Background: Traditional family-based obesity prevention and intervention programs are effective in facilitating health behaviour change for children. However, these programs are often impeded by barriers including geographical limitations, time constraints, ease of access, and weight stigma. Research suggests that virtual delivery may be effective for supporting children and families to adopt healthy lifestyle change while enhancing program accessibility. This rapid review aimed to summarise the impact of family-based digital interventions for childhood obesity prevention and treatment.
Methods: Four databases were searched from 1990 to February 2021 for trials of interactive digital programs for obesity prevention and interventions that involved: i) children aged 5-12 years, ii) family-based or home-based settings, iii) a comparison arm, and iv) reported diet, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, sleep or weight-related outcomes.
Results: The search identified 362 articles of which 23 publications (from 18 programs) met the inclusion criteria. Most of the programs (n=13) were published in the last five years. The interventions were conducted in eight countries, ranging between four- and 20-weeks duration, with the longest follow up between two months and two years from baseline. Behaviour change theories were used in 13 programs with ‘Social Cognitive Theory’ applied most frequently (n=9). Interventions have used websites (n=11), text messaging (n=5), video gaming (n=3), Facebook (n=3), and/or mobile apps (n=2). Studies reported changes in BMI (n=11), diet (n=12), physical activity (n=8) and/or screen time (n=5) in children. Significant improvements were reported for child diet (n=7) or physical activity (n=4). Two of five interventions were effective in reducing screen time.
Conclusion: Family-based digital interventions have shown modest improvements in child BMI and significant effectiveness in child diet and physical activity. This review found that digital approaches were acceptable and positively received by participants, with emerging evidence of the use of social media and video gaming for program delivery.