Are kids good for your health?
A child-initiated intervention has positive effects on the lifestyle of their mothers.
Chronic diseases have become prevalent in the 21st century, largely driven by unhealthy lifestyle behaviours including poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
There are numerous initiatives recommended to improve lifestyle behaviours and reduce risk of chronic disease, with varying degrees of success. No single approach works for everyone so it’s important to review the latest evidence to find out what is thought to be effective based on good quality research.
School based interventions are one approach that’s been shown to be effective in increasing children’s physical activity levels and reducing consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks.
An extension of this intervention is educating children to encourage their families to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours. Researchers have assessed the efficacy of this intervention in a group of school-aged children and their mothers.
The randomised controlled trial involved grade 8 students from a number of schools in Sri Lanka as well as their mothers. Students were assigned into the intervention or control group.
The experiment ran over a 12 month period and involved tailored education delivered to students in special classes at school. They were taught about chronic disease risk factors and encouraged to discuss these issues and come up with ways to address them.
The children encouraged family members to address the risk factors they identified and documented changes in their mothers’ behaviour over the course of the intervention. They were trained to provide feedback to their mothers addressing the changes (or lack thereof) in lifestyle choices.
The control group did not receive any program. The outcomes measured at the end of the 12 months included the mothers’ weight, BMI, self-reported physical activity and steps, diet, and food purchasing for the household.
At the end of the 12 month intervention, the mothers in the intervention group showed substantial improvements in lifestyle behaviours compared to the control group.
These included lower weight and BMI, higher odds of engaging in adequate physical activity, greater increase in the number of daily steps taken and a decrease in household purchasing of biscuits and ice-cream.
These results add weight to the growing body of evidence suggesting that children have the capacity to bring about positive healthy changes for themselves and their families.
Furthermore, educating children about health risks and associated lifestyle behaviours is important early in life as it’s been shown that unhealthy behaviours adopted in childhood often persist into adulthood.
With more evidence, this is a potentially effective program to implement in primary and high schools to encourage good health in the students and their families.
Last Reviewed: 14/09/2019
Norman Swan Medical Communications
Gunawardena, N et al. School-based intervention to enable school children to act as change agents on weight, physical activity and diet of their mothers: a cluster randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. (2016) 13:45 DOI: 10.1186/s12966-016-0369-7