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Diabetes Discoveries & Practice Blog

Obesity Prevention Program for Firstborn Children Has Sibling Benefits

Mother with her two children

Findings from the SIBSIGHT study demonstrate the potential long-term value of teaching new parents a childhood obesity prevention strategy.

In 2018, the NIDDK helped fund a study called Intervention Nurses Start Infants Growing on Health Trajectories (INSIGHT), which showed that an obesity prevention program for first-time parents and their infants promoted healthy weight gain in the infants through age 3. The NIDDK then funded a follow-up study, called SIBSIGHT, to see if second siblings also benefited even without parents repeating the program when the later children were born. And they did.

Recently published results from the SIBSIGHT study showed that parents who participated in the INSIGHT study continued using the strategies they learned with their subsequent child, and those second children gained weight at healthier levels, too. This new finding is important because the vast majority of parents have multiple children.

“A parenting strategy that can be taught once and then show benefits through subsequent children may be a path forward in helping curb the rising problem of childhood obesity,” says Dr. Voula Osganian, NIDDK program director for pediatric clinical obesity. About 13% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 have obesity, a number that rises as children age.

The original INSIGHT study used an intervention that teaches parents a strategy called responsive parenting, which means responding to children’s emotional and physical needs during feeding, bedtime, and play in an appropriate and consistent manner.

In the INSIGHT study, parents assigned to the responsive parenting group were educated on how to respond to their infant’s needs across four behaviors: feeding, sleep, interactive play, and emotional regulation. This group also learned strategies including how to put infants to bed drowsy, but awake, and avoid feeding infants to sleep; how to anticipate and respond to infants waking up at night; when to introduce solid foods; how to use growth charts; and how to limit sedentary time. The control group received a home safety intervention.

In the follow-up SIBSIGHT study, a subset of children from the first study and their newborn siblings were monitored for 1 year. Parents received no additional messaging during this time.

The initial INSIGHT study found that when the firstborns in the responsive parenting group were 3 years old, they had a body mass index (BMI) in a healthier range compared to those in the control group. The recently completed SIBSIGHT study had similar findings for the 1-year-old siblings of firstborn children.

On average, firstborns had a BMI that was 0.44 units lower, and siblings had a BMI that was 0.36 units lower, than their peers in the control groups. This represents about a 2.5% difference in weight.

“SIBSIGHT findings are promising because the education gets to parents at optimal times, in the first months of life and now even before a subsequent pregnancy,” Dr. Osganian explains. “SIBSIGHT demonstrates the potential long-term value of this childhood obesity prevention strategy.”

NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers notes, “A child’s first months are a critical period for parents and health care providers to intervene and promote healthy behaviors and growth, and the INSIGHT and SIBSIGHT results show us a potential way to do this effectively. Early and long-term obesity prevention strategies help set up our children for a healthy future.”

The results of the SIBSIGHT study were published in Obesity. For more information about the study, read the full NIH press release.

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