September marks the start of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a time for us to encourage America’s children to develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime. West Virginia University has an opportunity for families to pitch in and help prevent childhood obesity.

The Choose to Change childhood obesity prevention project is seeking parents or legal guardians of children enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs in Monongalia and Kanawha counties.

“Depending on whether their child’s school is designated as a ‘control’ or an ‘intervention’ school, this determines the amount and types of activities involved,” said Elaine Bowen, health promotion specialist with the WVU Extension Service’s Families and Health unit. “All families will be compensated for their time when they complete each component of the study.”

Parents in both the control and intervention groups will be asked to complete surveys about their family, such as their activity patterns, food habits, shopping, and health. Research staff will visit the parent at their home for additional data collection, to be scheduled at the parents’ convenience.

“When obesity is not especially relevant to a particular family, they don’t think the study is for them,” Bowen said. “Since the study focuses on healthy lifestyles, researchers are interested in enrolling parents and children regardless of their weight status.”

Parents in Monongalia County may contact Kristin McCartney at 304-205-3227 or Kristin.mccartney@mail.wvu.edu. Parents in Kanawha County may contact Tammy Gray at 304-376-6537 or tamara.gray@mail.wvu.edu .

Over the past 30 years, the childhood obesity rate in America has almost tripled. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years were already obese. Children and teenagers who are obese are more likely to become obese adults. Overweight and obese youth are at greater risk of developing serious adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

The Trust for America’s Health, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recently released a report showing that West Virginia has the third highest obesity rate in the nation, behind Mississippi and Louisiana. According to the report, West Virginia’s obesity rate is 32.4 percent.

Participating families in intervention sites will be invited to take part in four free Family Fun Nights during the year will feature a family meal, parent activities, and children’s activities. They will also have access to fun learning opportunities that will help create a healthy home environment.

“Parents will gain skills to teach their children health habits for a lifetime,” Bowen said. “They’ll also learn about community resources to support a healthy lifestyle and ways to take advantage of them.”

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institutes for Food and Agriculture, the Choose to Change project is being executed by an interdisciplinary team of WVU scholars representing the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, the WVU Extension Service, the School of Medicine and the Regional Research Institute.

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CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
304.293.2394; dwelsh@wvu.edu

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