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Family Health 101: How to Promote a Healthier Environment

Family Health 101: How to Promote a Healthier Environment

A funny thing happened when a bunch of first through third grade kids walked to school. Their parents lost weight!  The children were part of an obesity prevention program designed by nutritionists at Tufts University and the community of Somerville, MA, called Shape Up Somerville. The program consisted of overhauling school lunches, teaching kids about nutrition in school, increasing in-school and after-school physical activity programs, and sending out newsletters to their family with health tips, recipes and healthy food coupons.

What the researchers found was that as the kids shaped up it got the attention of their parents -- and changed their lives too. When the parents got involved with healthier eating and recreational activities for their children, they started buying healthier food and snacks for home, and supported city bike lanes, walking paths and other community health programs. The result? Moms’ and Dads’ BMI (body mass index) decreased more than their kids’, and the parents went from being overweight to a healthy weight!

The lesson for public health efforts, say the Tufts researchers, is when you improve children’s health you can also make their parents more committed to healthy habits. The lessons for Mom and Dad? If you work to lose weight and improve your health as a family team by shopping for healthy foods, taking regular walks, and getting active together, you’ll get results.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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