Many children in the U.S. have poor diets and in fact, 1 in 3 is overweight or obese. Parents struggle to have meals together with children and provide them with nutritious foods. They often rely on convenient and processed foods.
Jayne Fulkerson, associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, has received a $3.2 million research project grant (R01) from the National Institutes of Health for "Healthy Home Offerings via the Mealtime Environment (HOME) Plus." The study will test the effectiveness of an intervention, called HOME Plus, to prevent excess weight gain in eight- to 12-year-old children. Participating families will learn how to make their home environment more healthful. They will also learn how to create nutritious meals and snacks that all members can enjoy together. And they will be encouraged to reduce children's screen time (television viewing, computer game playing).
Fulkerson will head up an interprofessional team of experienced researchers that includes School of Nursing faculty Martha Kubik and Ann Garwick, along with statistician Olga Gurvich. Other members of the team are School of Public Health faculty Dianne Neumark-Sztainer and Mary Story. Also participating are staff from the University Extension Service.
Families learning from each other
Researchers will recruit 160 families from before- and after-school programs. In the randomized controlled trial, half of the families will participate in the HOME Plus program. The other half will serve as a control group and will receive monthly newsletters. Researchers will follow both groups for two and a half years.
Families participating in the HOME Plus program will meet regularly in small groups at community centers or local churches. The 90-minute sessions will include nutrition education and cooking skills for both parents and kids. The families will also collaborate on cooking a meal, which will be served as a buffet so that everyone can try the various foods they have made.
"During these sessions, parents learn from each other, and kids see other kids cooking and eating different foods," Fulkerson says. "This encourages kids to try new healthful foods."
Creating a healthy home environment:
At the end of the intervention program, the researchers will see if children in the HOME Plus group have improved weight compared to those in the control group. The researchers will also ask participating families if they are eating together more frequently and whether they are serving more healthful foods and beverages at family meals and snacks.
In addition, the project will encourage parents to limit the amount of time children spend watching television or playing computer games.
"When it comes to eating and exercise, parents are the primary role models for children," Fulkerson says. "HOME Plus is unique because it focuses on helping families work together to make the home environment healthier by promoting nutritious family meals and snacks, and reducing inactivity within the home."
Building on success:
HOME Plus uses methods that were successful in the previous HOME pilot project. Six months after that program ended, participating parents reported that their children were more likely to help make dinner, and children reported that they had learned cooking skills. Study findings also showed increased availability of fruits and vegetables in the home and less use of high-fat microwaveable foods. In addition, children tended to eat more fruits and vegetables.
The findings from the pilot project support the notion that families really want to have meals together. "A lot of parents had meals together when they were children," Fulkerson says. "They remember and like that idea. But often they lack nutrition knowledge, cooking skills and time. They would like to get over these barriers and have more nutritious meals in their own homes."
|Contact: Aneisha Tucker|
University of Minnesota