It is well known that unhealthy diets and behaviors plague families across the United States. There have been countless interventions that focus on improving healthy eating habits among children; however, there is limited research on how parental factors mediate their children’s dietary intake. In a recent publication, “Latina mothers as agents of change in children’s eating habits: findings from the randomized controlled trial Entre Familia: Reflejos de Salud”, Dr. Elva Arredondo, Dr. Guadalupe X. Ayala, and team examine just that.
Dr. Arredondo and Dr. Ayala, both professors at San Diego State University School of Public Health – division of health promotion and behavioral science, combine their interests of health disparities, obesity prevention, and Latino health promotion to evaluate the long-term effects that mothers’ health behaviors have on their children’s diet. “We conducted this research project for several reasons, but most importantly to address the high rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases that disproportionately affect Latinos/Hispanics and how they compare with other racial/ethnic groups” states Dr. Ayala.
This study included 361 Mexican-origin families living in Imperial County, California. Participating families were randomly assigned to a group, with half receiving a 4-month intervention and the other half assigned to a delayed treatment control group. Mothers from each family reported parenting strategies, dietary intake, dietary behavioral strategies, and household/family characteristics at baseline, 4-months (end of intervention), and 6 months (10-months post-baseline).
Furthermore, children reported their dietary intake at the same intervals. The intervention aimed to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables through modifying parental health behaviors, strategies, and other family and household influences on diet, and was implemented by promotoras (community health workers) through home visits and telephone calls. Dr. Arredondo, Dr. Ayala and team found that while there was no effect on child-reported fruit and vegetable serving intake, there was a significant mediating relationship between mother-reported behavioral strategies of increasing fiber and lower fat and children’s intake of varieties of vegetables and daily servings of sugar-sweetened beverages. Dr. Ayala states that they found that, “working with mothers to develop their parenting and behavioral skills and how they related to their family’s diet was instrumental in helping to improve their child’s food intake”.
Overall, this study finds that interventions targeting mothers’ health behaviors and strategies can promote changes in children’s diet. Furthermore, Dr. Ayala highlights the importance of this research stating that, “in addition to the positive results observed from this research study, the most meaningful impact of this research was that it started a long-term program of research with Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, Inc. which have now led to healthcare system changes to provide better quality of care to pediatric patients and their families”.