Communities nationwide have attempted to deal with the impact of obesity and find solutions. A study led by researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that community wide school based obesity prevention efforts impact on parents as well as their children.
“We’ve provided new evidence that community wide school-based obesity prevention efforts may go beyond the target audience of young children and influence the weight status of their parent, who helps decide what they eat and how active they are at home. From a public health perspective, this is a pretty powerful observation,” said senior author Christina Economos, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Friedman School and principal investigator of Shape Up Somerville.
The study participants included public school students in grades 1-3 and requested the participation of adults who shaped their daily environment. Parents, teachers, school food service and health care providers, and city departments and local media outlets participated in and promoted intervention initiatives. These measures included overhauling school lunch menus; introducing nutrition education curriculum in schools; attempting to increase energy expenditure through in-school and after-school physical activity programs; and working with area restaurants to offer healthier menu items.
Questionnaires were reviewed from 122 Somerville parents and 356 parents from the control communities before and after the intervention that spanned two school years (20 calendar months). Parents provided their height and weight, which was used to calculate BMI, and information about their socioeconomic background and their child’s physical activity and dietary habits.
As part of the community awareness campaign parents received a monthly newsletter in the mail with recipes, coupons for healthy foods, and articles. About one-third of the Somerville parents reported that they started to walk more during the intervention. Additionally, more than half of the Somerville parents self-reported that they chose healthier snacks for their kids and selected healthier menu options when eating out during the intervention.
Even after the intervention study had concluded, Somerville, continued to follow the intervention ideals, embracing social justice and health equity. School breakfast and lunch menus continue to emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy snacks. Environmental and policy changes resulted in improvements to city bike and walking paths and the development of recreational programming. Somerville offers year-round farmers’ markets that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women Infants and Children (WIC) benefits and still encourages restaurants to add healthier dishes, noted on menus as “Shape Up approved.”
“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. “‘Eat Smart, Play Hard, Move More’ is our continued mantra, and we’ve found that, overwhelmingly, even our youngest students embrace that lifestyle and are also helping their parents to understand the benefits. Creating and sustaining an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice is dependent on a community-based approach like Shape Up Somerville.”
Edward Coffield, Allison J. Nihiser, Bettylou Sherry, Christina D. Economos. Shape Up Somerville: Change in Parent Body Mass Indexes During a Child-Targeted, Community-Based Environmental Change Intervention.