Nearly one in three children are considered to be overweight or obese in the U.S. What these children have on their plates at home today can affect their health for tomorrow.
Senbagam Virudachalam MD, MSHP, faculty member at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab, is leading a three-year study to test a community-based intervention that helps parents of toddlers practice healthy food preparation.
The “Home Plate” study will include parents and mentors who will participate in weekly cooking classes for six weeks. The trained study staff will collect 24-hour dietary recalls from adult caregivers, and the results will then be used to calculate the energy density of the children’s diets.
A unique aspect of the study is that investigators are working closely with several respected West Philadelphia community organizations including WIC, Early Head Start, and The Enterprise Center, who have been instrumental in recruiting and engaging interested families in the study.
“Twenty parents and five mentors will participate in each six-week series of classes, where they will come together weekly to cook and eat a meal, with the goal of learning by doing, rather than through didactic instruction alone,” Dr. Virudachalam said. “We hope that parents who participate in the classes will gain both the confidence and skills to regularly prepare healthy food at home, resulting in improved diets for the entire family.”
In previous research, Dr. Virudachalam examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007-2008 to determine the prevalence and patterns of cooking dinner at home in the U.S. The analysis defined the scope of just how large of an issue home dinner preparation habits are for the daily lives of Americans.
“We found that while half of all Americans reported that they always cook dinner at home, the remainder obtain many or most dinners away from home,” Dr. Virudachalam noted. “Preparing healthy food at home is potentially one of the most significant points for effective interventions to curb the obesity epidemic, both at the individual and population level.”
Dr. Virudachalam and her co-authors concluded that dinner preparation habits vary with socio-economic status and race/ethnicity. Poorer, less educated households were more likely to either always or never cook dinner at home, and wealthier, more educated households were more likely to sometimes cook dinner at home.
“Half of all African American and Latino children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes or heart disease [due to obesity],” Dr. Virudachalam stated in her analysis.
She suggested that tailored interventions could help families limit fast food and promote healthy eating from home, which are the strategies that the Home Plate study is serving up. It has the potential to help parents learn how to make nutritious food choices that will become part of an overall healthier lifestyle for their families.
“If successful, the Home Plate intervention would provide a low-cost model for changing eating behaviors that could be replicated by community-based organizations throughout the country,” said Dr. Virudachalam, who also is an assistant professor of Pediatrics at CHOP and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Such interventions are crucial for successfully addressing the obesity epidemic.”
A $750,000 investment from The Aramark Charitable Fund to the Healthy Weight Program at CHOP is funding the Home Plate study, which is expected to be completed in October 2017.