An innovative research effort uses online resource to educate mothers on factors that cause childhood obesity.
The Web-based intervention allows mothers to access software that includes a variety of helpful tools to instill lifelong healthy behaviors.
The software tool kit includes healthy recipes, strategies for grocery shopping, techniques for better communicating with their children, tips for involving their children in meal preparation and other practical advice.
Adam Knowlden, Ph.D., a former doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati and a current assistant professor in the University of Alabama’s Health Science Department, hopes his research can better prepare moms to keep their kids from joining the rising ranks of America’s obese children.
“Addressing this problem of childhood obesity needs to start in the home environment and preferably with children at younger ages,” Knowlden said.
“This research shows the Web is an effective way to help some parents. It’s something that should be capitalized on from a public health perspective.”
Knowlden will present his team’s research at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 141st Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Knowlden’s novel EMPOWER intervention used a Web-based delivery method to help mothers better understand four behaviors associated with childhood obesity: consumption of fruits and vegetables; physical activity; consumption of sugary beverages; and screen time.
Mothers in the pilot study used special software to access the specialized content of the EMPOWER program.
Self-directed study and ease of access are critical components of the program as convenience and community aspects help boost program completion rates.
Giving participants the ability to access the program from their own homes at convenient times was an advantage over attending a meeting at a set time and that required travel.
And the community-building and interactive components of EMPOWER, such as online discussion boards, helped reduce feelings of isolation some participants might have had.
And ultimately, the program achieved positive results.
“We found that the experimental EMPOWER group and the standard care control group increased physical activity and reduced sugary beverage consumption and screen time.
“However, only the EMPOWER program improved children’s fruit and vegetable intake,” Knowlden said of the study done during his time at UC. “Moms were really interested and gave a lot of good feedback. We were able to change the home environment because of this Web-based program.”
Improving the health of children is critical for adult health as children who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.
“Many of the chronic diseases we have today are basically lifestyle-related,” Knowlden said.
“We’re showing that targeting behaviors that we know protect against childhood obesity will stick with children their whole lives when developed at young ages. Addressing those behaviors in the home environment is one of the key focal points and using the Web is an effective method for achieving that.”
Source: University of Cincinnati