NEW YORK - When obese people lose weight with behavioral therapy, their family members may grow a bit slimmer as well, according to an Italian study.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that family members of the obese patients in a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program also showed some changes for the better.
One option for managing obesity, CBT focuses on changing people's thoughts and attitudes to eating and other lifestyle habits, and giving them practical ways to make improvements.
"CBT for weight loss positively influences the lifestyle habits of family members of participants, reducing energy intake and promoting a more favorable attitude toward physical activity," wrote senior researcher Giulio Marchesini.
Marchesini and his colleagues surveyed the family members of 149 obese patients going through the CBT program at the University of Bologna, which consisted of 12 to 15 weekly group meetings.
Six months after their relatives started the program, family members, mainly spouses and adult children, were eating better.
They cut more than 200 calories from their daily intake, ate a bit less fat and refined carbohydrates, and ate a bit more fruit.
It translated into a weight loss of just under 1 kg (2.2 lb), on average. But the 35 relatives who were obese themselves lost an average of 2.7 kg (6 lb), with seven losing enough to become officially "overweight" instead of "obese".
One reason, Marchesini said, could be that family members made positive changes to help the person in therapy, such as ridding the kitchen of sugary, fatty temptations.
Even more likely was that the person in behavioral therapy instituted healthy changes at home, since 101 of the 149 patients were women - which meant, in Italy, that they were more likely to be in charge of meal planning.
"I do not know how much this possibility might translate into different cultures, but this is definitely the case among Italian families," Marchesini added.
Researchers did note that since they tried to survey almost 500 family members but only got responses from 230, many of the responses might be from the more motivated and supportive families to start with.
But other studies have also noted that weight-loss treatments can have a positive impact on family members as well.
In October, surgeons at Stanford University found that the obese relatives of patients who underwent obesity surgery also lost weight in the year following the procedure, probably due to lifestyle changes for the whole family.