A recent Finnish study showed that individualized and family-based lifestyle counseling helps young children increase their physical activity levels and improve their diet.
In the study, researchers found the counseling helped six to eight year-old children increase their activity levels and improve their diet during a two-year follow-up.
The results of the study, conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, were recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine.
“Children from families who participated in lifestyle counselling were physically more active, ate more vegetables and vegetable-oil-based spreads, and had a higher intake of important nutrients than children in the control group. However, the impact of the intervention on screen time remained modest,” says Anna Viitasalo, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Eastern Finland.
The researchers investigated the effects of physical activity and dietary counselling on physical activity, sedentary behavior, and diet quality during a two-year period in over 500 children aged six to eight years, as part of the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study.
Researchers found that children from families who received lifestyle counseling particularly increased their leisure-time physical activity, while it decreased in the control group. Screen-based sedentary behavior, such as watching TV and playing computer games, increased in both groups, but less in the intervention group compared to the control group.
The researchers also found that lifestyle counseling increased the consumption of vegetables, low-fat milk and vegetable oil-based spreads in children. The health-promoting changes in diet quality also increased the intake of fiber and vitamins C and E.
The research clearly identified the significant role of parents on instilling healthy behaviors in their children.
“Parents have a major impact on their children’s health behaviour. Individualized lifestyle counselling involving parents could be part of the child health care system. Reducing the risk of many non-communicable diseases by improved lifestyle habits could also reduce health care costs,” said principal investigator Professor Timo Lakka.
During the two-year follow-up, the families in the intervention group participated in six physical activity and dietary counselling sessions which aimed to find suitable and practical ways to increase physical activity, reduce sedentary behavior, and improve diet quality in each family.
Children in the intervention group could also participate in exercise clubs organized by the study. The children’s physical activity, screen-based sedentary behavior and diet quality were assessed at baseline and at two-year follow-up.
The PANIC Study is an ongoing lifestyle intervention study at the Institute of Biomedicine of the University of Eastern Finland. The PANIC Study produces scientifically valuable information on children’s lifestyle, health, and well-being.