Background: Effective broad-reach interventions to reduce childhood obesity are needed, but there is currently little consensus on the most effective approach. Parental involvement in interventions appears to be important. The use of eHealth modalities in interventions also seems to be promising. To our knowledge, there have been no previous reviews that have specifically investigated the effectiveness of parent-focused eHealth obesity interventions, a gap that this systematic review and meta-analysis intends to address.
Objective: The objective of this study was to review the evidence for body mass index (BMI)/BMI z-score improvements in eHealth overweight and obesity randomized controlled trials for children and adolescents, where parents or carers were an agent of change.
Methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted, which conforms to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) statement. Seven databases were searched for the period January 1995 to April 2015. Primary outcome measures were BMI and/or BMI z-score at baseline and post-intervention. Secondary outcomes included diet, physical activity, and screen time. Interventions were included if they targeted parents of children and adolescents aged 0-18 years of age and used an eHealth medium such as the Internet, interactive voice response (IVR), email, social media, telemedicine, or e-learning.
Results: Eight studies were included, involving 1487 parent and child or adolescent dyads. A total of 3 studies were obesity prevention trials, and 5 were obesity treatment trials. None of the studies found a statistically significant difference in BMI or BMI z-score between the intervention and control groups at post-intervention, and a meta-analysis demonstrated no significant difference in the effects of parent-focused eHealth obesity interventions compared with a control on BMI/BMI z-score (Standardized Mean Difference −0.15, 95% CI −0.45 to 0.16, Z=0.94, P=.35). Four of seven studies that reported on dietary outcomes demonstrated significant improvements in at least 1 dietary measurement, and 1 of 6 studies that reported on physical activity outcomes demonstrated significant improvements compared with the control. The quality of the interventions was generally not high; therefore, these results should be interpreted with caution.
Conclusion: It is recommended that larger, longer duration, high-quality parent-focused eHealth studies are conducted, which transform successful components from face-to-face interventions into an eHealth format and target younger age groups in particular.