As far back as 2006, professionals were talking about the importance of involving parents in school-based interventions to prevent childhood obesity. Because nobody seemed to be collecting enough of the right kind of data, this necessity for parental participation was difficult to prove to bureaucrats and the allocators of funding.
Yet, simultaneously, there was a feeling that maybe trying to work with parents and kids at the same time was counterproductive. Children are always, to a certain extent and in a certain sense, performative in front of their parents. They are even bigger show-offs in front of the other kids who are also putting on some kind of display for their own parents.
Since time immemorial, kids have impressed each other with how thoroughly they can fool the grownups, and how much they can get away with in subtle ways. Psychologically there is a lot going on, but the role of parents was recognized as very significant, so professionals started thinking about the validity of working with parents and children separately.
It all depends
We saw how ParentCorps works with parents and kids separately, but presumably with benefit to both. Does this mean that other programs are just babysitting while the parents learn things? Or do they need to leave the kids at home, or what?
ParentCorps, by the way, seems to do a very satisfactory job of preparing children for reading, writing, and math, compared to standard pre-kindergarten programs. Analysts found “robust evidence of cost-effectiveness and long-term impact across multiple child domain outcomes.”
By cost-effectiveness, they mean that children whose history was followed did not rack up as many financial liabilities to society, saving the taxpayers an estimated $2,500 each in medical and legal costs. The findings are very encouraging:
During pre-K through second grade, behavioral problems grew at a much slower rate, and emotional problems remained less pronounced among children in ParentCorps schools, as compared with children in schools that did not offer ParentCorps.
By age 8, children who had been in pre-K programs enhanced with ParentCorps were significantly less likely to have emotional, behavioral, and mental health problems than children in standard pre-K programs.
Further on in time, a program called called Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 was offered by YMCAs in Rochester, MN. Lasting six months, it invited families to attend seven monthly evening classes in cooking and physical activity, and also sent them monthly emails with reminders about healthy habits.
But this effort did not generate the hoped-for results. The intervention kids got better scores on Knowledge Acquisition Survey questions, but the rest was disappointing:
As compared to children in the control group, there was no significant change in BMI or waist circumference or healthy habits in the intervention group.
Conclusion: Our study findings indicate that our intervention resulted in improved knowledge about healthy habits, but did not significantly impact healthy habits or BMI. Potential reasons for this were the small sample size and the attenuated length and/or intensity of the intervention.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The role of parents in preventing childhood obesity,” NIH.gov, spring 2006
Source: “Impact of ParentCorps,” NYU.edu, undated
Source: “The Effectiveness of a Family-Centered Childhood Obesity Intervention at the YMCA: A Pilot Study,” OMICSOnline.org, 02/23/18
Photo credit: Al Abut on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA