Exploring Innovative Approaches and Patient-Centered Outcomes From Positive Outliers in Childhood Obesity



      New approaches for obesity prevention and management can be gleaned from positive outliers—that is, individuals who have succeeded in changing health behaviors and reducing their body mass index (BMI) in the context of adverse built and social environments. We explored perspectives and strategies of parents of positive outlier children living in high-risk neighborhoods.


      We collected up to 5 years of height/weight data from the electronic health records of 22,443 Massachusetts children, ages 6 to 12 years, seen for well-child care. We identified children with any history of BMI in the 95th percentile or higher (n = 4007) and generated a BMI z-score slope for each child using a linear mixed effects model. We recruited parents for focus groups from the subsample of children with negative slopes who also lived in zip codes where >15% of children were obese. We analyzed focus group transcripts using an immersion/crystallization approach.


      We reached thematic saturation after 5 focus groups with 41 parents. Commonly cited outcomes that mattered most to parents and motivated change were child inactivity, above-average clothing sizes, exercise intolerance, and negative peer interactions; few reported BMI as a motivator. Convergent strategies among positive outlier families were family-level changes, parent modeling, consistency, household rules/limits, and creativity in overcoming resistance. Parents voiced preferences for obesity interventions that include tailored education and support that extend outside clinical settings and are delivered by both health care professionals and successful peers.


      Successful strategies learned from positive outlier families can be generalized and tested to accelerate progress in reducing childhood obesity.


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