Apr 01, 2008


A program was
conducted with the intention of treating overweight children. Fifteen girls
were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions or a control
group. The goal of the treatment was to teach behavioral techniques that would
impact children’s eating and exercise habits and thus
lead to weight loss. Some parents were also contracted to reinforcement and
stimulus control techniques which might facilitate their child’s
weight loss. At the end of the treatment, both experimental groups had lost
significantly more weight than the control group. However, at the first
follow-up, it was found that some of the lost weight was regained,
the treatment group in which parents were also contracted to use reinforcement
techniques was still significantly below the control group. At the 31-week
follow-up, no significant differences were found.


Target population: Overweight children
5-10 years of age.

This program attempted behavioral techniques to treat
overweight children. Parents were taught behavior-modification procedures that
might change their children’s eating and exercise
habits. Parents were also encouraged to reinforce their child’s
weight loss through contingency training (response-cost) with the program. In
this situation, parents were penalized if their children did not meet the
weight loss goals.


Aragona, J., Cassady, J., Drabman, R.S.
(1975). Treating Overweight Children Through
Parental Training and Contingency Contracting. Journal of Applied
Behavioral Analysis, 8
(3), 269-278.

Evaluated population: Fifteen overweight
girls, ages 5-10. Children were determined to be overweight if both their
physician and their parents recommended that they take part in the weight-loss
program. Children were not allowed to participate if they were currently
undergoing psychotherapy, drug therapy, or were involved in a weight-loss
program elsewhere. It was necessary for all families in the program to own a
bathroom scale.

Approach: Participants were randomly assigned to one
of three groups: Group 1 was a response-cost (or contingency contracting) plus
reinforcement; Group 2 was response-cost only, and group 3 was a control group.
For participation in the program, a physician permission form was required in
which it was indicated that it was safe for the child to participate over the
course of 12 weeks.

The parents of the children in both experimental groups were
provided with daily weight and calorie graphs, a calorie counter guide, and an
eating diary. They were also given a weight reduction program behavioral
contract, as well as daily exercise instructions and program. Finally, they
received nutritional information and instructions for stimulus control

The parents of the children in the response-cost plus
reinforcement group were provided with a copy of Living with Children
(Patterson and Gullion, 1971), information on
reinforcement techniques, as well as a reinforcement diary.

Baseline information for both experimental groups was
obtained over a 2 week period. Measurements of height were also taken at the
first baseline meeting. Those in the control group were measured the same day
but were then told the program was currently closed and they would have to wait
to participate at a later time. Parents in both experimental groups received
similar response-cost contracts at the second baseline meeting, and were also
asked to decide on weekly weight-loss goals for their children, between 1 and 2
pounds. The deposit asked of the parents ranged from $12-30 and depended on the
family income and number of dependents. At the third baseline meeting, more
information was provided, signed forms and contracts were collected, and
children were weighed once again. After this, a 12-week treatment period began.

Those in group 1 (response-cost plus reinforcement) received
the exercise program, nutritional information, and stimulus control
information. Parents of children in this group were also required to keep a
daily food diary and to graph their child’s caloric
intake and weight daily. The deposit they made at the beginning of the program
was returned in 12 weekly installments; they received 25% weekly for
attendance, 25% for bringing completed graphs and charts to the meeting, and
50% if their child lost the predetermined amount of weight set by the contract.
These parents also received instructions on reinforcement and changing their child’s behavior; they discussed the text they were
provided at each meeting, they set a weekly reinforcer
for losing weight (for their child) and they kept a reinforcement diary in
which they recorded the specific reinforced, the behavior being reinforced, and
when the reinforcer was given.

Those in group 2 (response-cost only) received the same
treatment as those in group 1, except for the reinforcement component. Parents
in this group did not receive information in reinforcement and procedures for
it were not discussed.

Every six weeks, any unearned money was divided among
successful parents and their progress was discussed and verbally reinforced,
but any lack of success was ignored.

Those in the control group were weighed and height was
measured before and after the program duration. They received no contract. All
3 groups were followed-up 8 and 31 weeks after the end of the program.

Results: Of the 15 participants initially recruited,
3 dropped out (one from group 1 and two from group 2). Mean baseline weight for
those in group 1 was 105.5 pounds; for group 2, it was 105.3 pounds; for group
3 it was 99.3 pounds, with no significant difference between groups analyzed.
At the end of the program, significant differences in weight were found.
Children in group 1 had lost an average of 11.3 pounds. Those in group 2 had
lost an average on 9.5 pounds, and those in the control group had gained an
average of 0.9 pounds. Both experimental groups lost significantly more weight
than the control group.

At the week 8 follow-up, information was analyzed for only
11 children, since one of the control group members had started another
treatment program, which undermines the intent-to-treat evaluation design. At
this time, those in group 1 maintained an average weight loss of 7.9 pounds.
Children in group 2 maintained an average weight loss of 5 pounds, while those
in the control group had a gain of 3.6 pounds. Analyses show that those in group 1 had gained back significantly less weight
than those in the control group.

At the 31 week follow-up it was not possible to obtain
information on those in the control group, but it was found that the two
experimental groups were not significantly different at this time. Findings are
undermined by the small sample size and attrition.



Aragona, J., Cassady,
J., Drabman, R.S. (1975). Treating Overweight
Children Through Parental Training and Contingency
Contracting. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 8(3),

Patterson, G.R and Gullion, M.E.
Livingwith children: new methods for
parents and teachers.
Illinois: Research Press, 1971.

KEYWORDS: Physical Health, Overweight, Nutrition, Physical Activity/Fitness, Exercise, Weight Loss, Life Skills Training, Early Childhood (0-5), Middle Childhood (6-11), Parent or Family Component, Children, Behavior-Modification.

Program information last updated 04/01/08.