It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of kids in the United States are considered overweight or obese. Much research has been dedicated to finding new ways to lower that number and doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital may have evidence of a new and effective approach.
A team of doctors from the Ambulatory Department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital studied nearly 300 mother-child pairs over the child’s first year of life to determine not only the nutritional component of preventing obesity in young children, but also the impact of the mother’s behavior on the children’s weight. The research shows that how mom eats may play a bigger role in her children’s health than previously thought.
Traditionally, nutrition is just one of many topics that pediatricians discuss with parents during routine well-child visits. In this new research, led by Judith Groner, MD, a physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, there is evidence that by focusing the attention to mom and teaching her how to eat properly, the kids were more likely to adapt to healthy eating behaviors.
The study divided the participants into three groups that determined which type of nutritional information they received: Ounce of Prevention, Maternal-Focused and Bright Futures. Ounce of Prevention focused on the types and amounts of foods that children should receive and at what age they should be introduced. The Maternal-Focused group strived to improve the mothers’ eating habits in hopes of reaching the entire family. Bright Futures is the most widely accepted program by the American Academy of Pediatrics and incorporated nutritional information into a wide variety of topics being addressed.
The year-long study found that the most successful model is the Maternal-Focused model’s approach of targeting mom as an agent of change in the family. The mothers self-reported a decrease in the amount of juice the children consumed and the amount of time spent watching television, as well as an increase in the amounts of fruits consumed. The Ounce of Prevention group also showed positive changes.
In the near future, Dr. Groner hopes to merge the most successful messages from both groups in the clinical care setting when addressing nutrition with moms.
“The idea was that during the first year of life, repeatedly give mom advice on how she ate at the well-child visits,” said Dr. Groner, who is also a clinical professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “It’s our hope by seeing what mom does, that down the road, the children would start to eat more organized meals, plan snacks and have less of this constant grazing all the time that can lead to obesity.”
The importance, according to Dr. Groner, is not necessarily on what mom is eating, but instead on when she eats. By organizing set meal times and eliminating snacking throughout the day, kids observe mom and learn the importance of well-planned and nutritionally balanced meals.
“There were very clear signs that doing this does and can change behavior, particularly in the 6-month age range and then to a certain extent at 12 months. In this study, we did see mothers responding to this information and changing their behavior,” added Robert Murray, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s and professor of clinical pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.