Researchers have found a more efficient way to address childhood obesity using horses in family group therapy, according to a Texas Tech news release.

Using horses actually motivated children to attend treatment sessions, according to the news release.

Jason Van Allen, the director of the Examining Nutrition, Exercise and Rest in Growing Youth (ENERGY) Laboratory and an associate professor of clinical psychology, offers a program called Positively Fit to the Lubbock community through his lab, according to the news release.

Assistant professor of companion animal science Katy Schroeder, who also is the director of the Equine-Assisted Counseling and Wellness Laboratory and Clinic, joined Van Allen to develop this treatment, according to the news release.

In addition, Emily Dhurandhar, an assistant kinesiology professor and the director for the Kinesiology Department’s Nutrition Laboratory, helped create the curriculum for equine-based therapy.

This team of people presented their findings at the 2019 American Psychological Association Convention in Chicago, according to the news release. They are currently looking for grants to continue their research on equine-based training regarding child obesity.

Van Allen’s Positively Fit program educates both children and their caregivers on weight management, according to the news release. They train them separately and collaboratively.

The program discusses dietary choices, a child’s eating habits and increased exercise and lifestyle changes that the entire family must endure to create a supportive environment, according to the news release.

The program encourages a child’s guardian to use positive reinforcement, promote new and beneficial habits and to change their own habits to give their child a model of healthy living, according to the news release.

During therapy sessions, a family is assigned a horse, according to the news release. The children participate in physical exercise for about 45 to 60 minutes each week at their sessions; the children learn horse grooming, how to lead the horse and they practice horse riding.

This program marks the first type of child obesity therapy that incorporates animals, according to the news release. It offers families an interactive and entertaining way to get involved with therapy.

The first two families who participated in the pilot study found success, according to the news release.

The program promoted a supportive environment where families could learn as a unit, according to the news release. The children from each family experienced higher self-efficacy for physical activity, decreases in fat mass and increases in lean mass.

After the conclusion of the allotted therapy sessions, the families provided positive feedback, according to the news release. They said the horses positively affected their desire to participate in therapy.

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