father has meal with his family

New program shows importance of engaging fathers in childhood obesity interventions

New father-focused childhood obesity prevention program for Mexican-heritage families in South Texas showed improvements in healthy habits
November 9, 2021

A new paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health describes a new family-centric childhood obesity prevention program that focuses on fathers’ roles and is tailored for Mexican-heritage families in South Texas border communities.

Joseph Sharkey, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Health Promotion & Community Health Sciences at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, and Cassandra Johnson, PhD, MSPH, a graduate of the School of Public Health and an assistant professor at Texas State University, describe the new intervention, Haz Espacio para Papi (HEPP, Make Room for Daddy) aimed at involving fathers in changing family dynamics and healthy behaviors. HEPP was designed with input from the community and relied on community health workers known as promotoras to create a culturally relevant intervention.

The six-week-long intervention used a family-centric approach with the aim of changing behaviors of parents and children and increasing physical activity and intake of fruits and vegetables. The program consisted of weekly in-person group sessions, activities to do at home between sessions and regular home visits or telephone check-ins.

The research team recruited families with children between the ages of 9 and 11 who self-identified as being of Mexican heritage, that is, people who themselves were born in Mexico or who had parents or grandparents born in Mexico. During the weekly sessions families would learn about nutrition and utilize new ways of cooking that merged healthy nutrition habits and traditionally preferred foods. Each weekly session also included breaks for active play.

The research team compared fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity at the beginning and end of the program and conducted a follow-up a few months after the intervention. The findings showed improvements in healthy habits and demonstrated the importance of engaging fathers in childhood obesity interventions. The researchers note that even though the intervention was designed to focus on fathers, mothers were a crucial part of the program as research has shown the importance of partner support in such interventions.

The results of the program highlight the strength of including fathers and designing public health interventions with the community and its cultural aspects in mind from the beginning. HEPP can serve as a starting point for further research and additional obesity reduction efforts. Including fathers and children with mothers in family-centric interventions could make programs more effective and lead to improved health outcomes as children grow into adulthood.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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