The percentage of children in Boston, Massachusetts, who are obese is greater than the percentage of obese children in the state or the nation. The city’s young people are more likely to watch three or more hours of television each day than their peers statewide or across the nation, and they are less likely to get recommended levels of physical activity. In Maine, the percentage of children watching three or more hours of television is lower than the national level. Children in Maine also drink less sugared sodas, on average, than children do in the country overall. Equal proportions of Maine and U.S. youth are obese: 13%.
By studying afterschool programs in Boston and Maine, researchers are exploring how to deliver interventions to children of different ethnic backgrounds in both urban and rural settings. Researchers are developing a tool kit that can guide the organizers of after-school programs on how to give children opportunities to consume healthy snacks and drinks as well as encourage physical activity.
All children participating in the Boston portion of the study will wear accelerometers, so their physical activity can be measured. The researchers will assemble two study groups of 10 afterschool programs each. One group will be used for comparison (control), not receiving any interventions in the first year. The second group receives an intervention focused on environmental and policy change and resources adapted from the successful YMCA-Harvard Afterschool Food and Fitness Project, which uses games, lessons, and recipes to introduce healthy habits.
At baseline in both groups, researchers measure participants’ levels of physical activity and the amount of time available for children to be active. They will note the snacks and beverages available and measure the time children spend in front of a computer, television, or video-game screen. Researchers will also measure children's snack consumption by conducting a plate waste study of foods and beverages served.
After the school year ends, researchers will reassess these factors to determine any changes in the after-school programs. The following school year, programs in both groups will receive the same intervention. In the third and fourth years of this study, dissemination of the intervention will be explored in afterschool programs in Maine.