How to Build Programs, or Not

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,”, spring 2006
Source: “Impact of ParentCorps,”, undated
Source: “The Effectiveness of a Family-Centered Childhood Obesity Intervention at the YMCA: A Pilot Study,”, 02/23/18
Photo credit: Al Abut on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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