Thirty percent of the children in Columbus, Ohio, are overweight—nearly double the national average. Children who are overweight or obese today have a greater risk of being overweight or obese adults, which can increase their risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. Parents have the greatest influence on young children’s eating and exercise habits, as weight-related behaviors may be formed as early as preschool. Programs are needed that help parents establish healthy eating and exercise habits in their children during the first five years of life.
Researchers are working with community partners to determine the best ways to encourage parents to create healthier habits for their children. Community leaders are identifying the types of social and environmental supports that help parents address childhood overweight. Parent focus groups are providing insight on problems they have in managing their child’s weight. The collected information will help the researchers develop a survey to determine parents’ personal, social, and environmental influences contributing to their children’s weight.
The survey will ask parents if they limit television time and sweetened beverages, and whether they would be ready to take such steps at home. Parents’ stress levels, support from friends and family, and personal characteristics (such as income) will be collected to understand the individual challenges to preventing childhood overweight. Environmental factors, such as access to fresh fruits and vegetables, will also be recorded. The body mass index (BMI) of the parents’ preschool-aged children will be measured to determine if individual, social, and environmental factors are related to the child’s weight.
Five hundred parents of children age 5 or younger will be recruited from pediatricians’ offices, day care centers, and similar sites to take the survey. Two-person teams will visit the home of each parent and deliver the survey as an interview. After one year, 100 participants will receive a follow-up survey to see how parenting behaviors change over time. Results from these surveys can be used to design interventions that can make it easier to develop health-promoting parental skills.