Those extra pounds that kids put on during the growing years are often linked to serious long-term health conditions in their future. Researchers say kids diagnosed with obesity should kick-start treatment early, even at pre-school age, with intensive parent support for lasting results.

In a new study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers from Karolinska Institute in Sweden analyzed over 170 young children diagnosed with obesity.

All the participants and their parents were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: a standard treatment group, a group with parental support and a parental support group that has follow-up telephone support.

In the standard treatment group, both children and parents had meetings with doctors and pediatricians, who emphasized diet and exercise. The two parental support groups did not include the children. They focused on educating parents for positively encouraging healthy family lifestyles, without creating conflicts.

"Such conversations can center on how to set boundaries, how to teach children new behaviors, and how to communicate with preschools, grandmothers, neighbors and other adults in the children's world," Paulina Nowicka, principal investigator of the study, said in a news release.

Although children in all three groups had weight loss after 12 months, the group that received parental support, especially those who received follow-up phone calls showed the best results.

"We also found that more children in this third group showed a clinically relevant improvement of their weight status associated with better metabolic health, by which I mean better levels of blood lipids and glucose," Nowicka said.

Most parents know the food that is healthy for the child, but the dilemma is when the child always feels hungry. The trick is building a structure at home and reducing weight without making food a taboo, Nowicka noted.

"You have to try to build a clear structure at home, one that makes the child know that lunch is on its way and know that they'll be getting supper. But you also need to do things together to strengthen family bonds, like getting the child involved in the cooking, giving the child vegetables if they're hungry, and not rewarding them with food. It's also important to make sure that food isn't associated with emotions and achievement," she said.

Nowicka also pointed out that intensive obesity treatment is safe and efficacious for preschool children.

"Treating children at that age is much more effective than if you start treating them in their teens. Some adolescents are looking at possible bariatric surgery and we hope that this can be avoided with earlier treatment," she added.