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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wash. U.'s COMPASS Study Seeks Volunteers: Find Your Way to Sustainable Weight Loss

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 3:48 PM

  • RFT

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine are conducting a study designed to help families who want to learn about better diet and activity. The project is called COMPASS: Comprehensive Maintenance Program to Achieve Sustained Success, and it is free for families who meet the study's criteria and make the one-year commitment to participate.

Gut Check spoke with Rob Welch, an assistant professor of psychology at the med school who serves as a supervisor for the COMPASS clinical staff and a family group leader. COMPASS evolved from a previous study conducted in San Diego (the results of that study were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association). In both the San Diego program and COMPASS, overweight children aged seven to eleven who have at least one overweight parent participated in a yearlong weight-loss program.

The COMPASS program focuses on education and simple, sustainable changes to diet and exercise. The most critical evolution from the San Diego study is the strong emphasis on establishing solid peer-support systems.

My wife and eight-year-old son joined the first round of COMPASS and have had a very positive experience, as well as significant weight loss. Welch says their experience is typical.

"We've been very impressed with the level of weight loss, with more than 46 percent of the participants losing at least six pounds" during the initial phase of the program, he says. While six pounds may not seem like a lot, remember that half of COMPASS participants are young children.

For my son, it has made a huge difference to his self-esteem. "I feel a lot better," he says, "and I don't get made fun of that much anymore."

While those are hard words for a parent to hear, both my wife and I have struggled with weight issues since our elementary-school days.

COMPASS exists because overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, and the percentage of overweight Americans is increasing at alarming rates. My son's weight loss during the initial phase was such that Welch says that "if [your son] can even just maintain his current weight over the next year and he experiences normal growth, he will have moved from 'obese' to 'normal.'"

As a parent, particularly one who struggles with weight himself, that's priceless.

The focus of the first phase, which my family just completed, is instruction on how to change the home environment to promote a healthier lifestyle for the entire family. Each family meets with a trained health specialist who personalizes the COMPASS system to fit their needs. Again, our family is great example of the study's commitment to supporting individuals. My wife has significant dietary restrictions -- including avoiding gluten, corn, soy, and dairy -- and our family is committed to eating local, non-processed foods, but as my wife notes, "COMPASS is not rigid as to what is okay and not okay. Instead it's about finding a balance that works within your family while recognizing the truth about the foods that you're eating."

Our specialist, Molly Swanston, has been incredibly helpful, getting information about the uncommon things we eat and providing support.

The system itself is easy to implement. Food and activities are broken down into three categories -- green, yellow and red -- and daily consumption and activities of the participating parent and child are logged. Goals are then established for total calories, total "red" foods and activities and total "green" foods and activities.

"The accountability of having to come every week, weigh in and present your logs forces you to really look at what you're doing day to day with eating and exercising," my wife says.

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