Rates of childhood overweight and obesity have tripled in the last three decades and continue to rise. Overweight children and adolescents are increasingly at risk for diseases of adults, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) describes childhood obesity as being influenced by community, school, and home factors. School-based interventions may improve students’ nutrition and physical activity behaviors while on campus, but programs are needed that can improve these behaviors both during and outside of school time.
In the Mississippi Delta region of Arkansas, many families are poor, lack health insurance, and have high rates of obesity and heart disease. Researchers are conducting a pilot study in five counties of the Delta region to determine the best ways to increase family-school engagement in addressing issues of childhood obesity and overweight.
Researchers will focus on expanding and strengthening community partnerships and create a Childhood Obesity Working Group (COWG) comprising parents, school personnel, and key members of grassroots groups. The COWG will determine issues parents and schools face in addressing childhood obesity and will identify barriers to collaboration.
Information from the work group as well as data from community focus groups will inform the creation of two toolkits, one for parents and one for school personnel. Each toolkit will address options for making changes at home or school and offer strategies for bringing parents and school personnel together for promoting weight management behaviors.
The toolkits will be distributed to parents and school officials and tested for feasibility, acceptability, and use within the target groups. The researchers will also track changes in school policies, changes to the school and home environment, and increases in parents’ and children’s knowledge and behaviors related to nutrition and physical activity. As the materials are tested and revised, researchers will plan the next research phase.