A Pilot Study Investigating the Feasibility and Acceptability of a Parent-Only Behavioral Weight-Loss Treatment for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Brittany E. MathesonEmail author
  • Amy Drahota
  • Kerri N. Boutelle


Evidence-based weight-loss treatments for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are lacking. Therefore, a parent-based weight-loss treatment for children with ASD (PBT-ASD) was developed. A pilot study was conducted to test the initial efficacy, feasibility, and acceptability of this intervention. Parents of 20 children with ASD and overweight/obesity (mean age = 9.90 (SD = 2.31) years; 90% male; 40% Hispanic) participated in a 16-session PBT-ASD. The PBT-ASD program was found to be feasible and acceptable. Both children and parents lost weight from pre- to post-treatment (p’s < .05). Parent-reported child physical activity and vegetable consumption increased at post-treatment (p’s < .05). This pilot study provides a proof-of-concept for PBT-ASD. Randomized controlled trials with larger samples and follow-up are needed.


Autism spectrum disorder Obesity Weight-loss Parent training 



The authors are grateful to the Healthy Weight Research Network for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities for providing the funding for this pilot study (HRSA UA3 MC25735). Amy Drahota, Ph.D., also received funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health (K01 MH093477). The authors would like to thank the families that participated in the TEAM UP study as well as the dedicated staff at the Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research. Initial findings regarding treatment development and preliminary results from this study were presented at the Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Convention in 2015.

Author Contributions

All authors contributed to the design of the study and jointly developed the treatment. BM was responsible for data collection and analyses. All authors contributed to the interpretation of findings, participated in the preparation and writing of the manuscript, and have approved the final version.


The study was funded by Healthy Weight Research Network for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities (HRSA UA3 MC25735); National Institutes of Mental Health (K01 MH093477; PI: Drahota)

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Child & Adolescent Services Research CenterSan DiegoUSA
  4. 4.Department of PediatricsUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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