How Applied Behavior Analysis is Tackling Childhood Obesity


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity in the United States has more than doubled since 1980 to 18% for children aged 6-11, and more than quadrupled to 21% for adolescents aged 12-19.  The main culprit is simple — too many calories ingested with too few calories burned.

Luckily, we have Applied Behavior Analysis to help promote healthy behaviors, and a study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis did just that.  Researchers worked with four preschoolers deemed to be sedentary (i.e., generally lacked physical activity).  They then placed the children in four different randomly alternating conditions to see which condition was most likely to promote physical activity.

The four conditions were:

1) Outdoor toys, including movable objects like balls, a hula hoop, a bucket and shovel, etc…

2) Fixed equipment, including a jungle gym with slides, monkey bars, etc…

3) Open space, where the children could play outside in the grass with no other play materials.

4) A control condition consisting of a table in the playground area with coloring books, crayons, and other tabletop activities.

The results suggested that the fixed equipment evoked the highest levels of physical activity, which actually contradicts previous non-experimental findings on play activity.

To read more about the study, the full text is available at the hyperlink above.

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