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A school-based community obesity intervention could benefit parents too, study

Posted:  Friday, December 26, 2014

Study shows dual benefits for parents and child when enrolled in a school-based community obesity intervention.

Parents of children enrolled in a school-based community obesity program could also reap healthy gains. A recent analysis of the Shape Up Somerville: Eat Smart Play Hard intervention by Tufts University researchers found that exposure to the intervention as a parent was associated with a modest decrease in the body mass index (BMI) in comparison to parents in 2 similar control communities.

The researchers reviewed questionnaires from 122 Somerville parents who took part in the intervention and 356 parents from the control communities before and after the intervention. The parents were asked to provide information about their height and weight (which was used to calculate BMI), their socioeconomic background and their child's physical activity and dietary habits. The intervention lasted for 2 school years and had initiatives such as nutrition education in schools, increased in-school and after-school physical activity programmes and working with area restaurants to offer healthier menu items. The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers noted that during the intervention, about one-third of Somerville parents reported increased physical activity (walking), whereas more than half reported choosing healthy snacks for their kids and selecting healthy options when eating out. The residents of Somerville still follow the learnings as school breakfast and lunch menus continue to revolve around a balanced diet. Environment and policy changes have encouraged city biking and walking.

Restaurants are encouraged to add healthy dishes with a ‘Shape Up approved’ stamp on the menu. A year round farmer’s market is also set up to provide fresh produce. "These results reinforce what we've learned from Shape Up Somerville--that if we can cultivate an environment that makes it easier to make healthy choices, one change can cause a ripple effect that sparks change elsewhere," said Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

Such community wide interventions could help in creating and sustaining an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice. This would not only benefit the elder members of the household but also inculcate healthy behaviours in young children.

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