Online Training - We Can!® Energize Our Families: Parent Program
Chapter 4: Parent Program Session 1: We Can! Energize Our Families—Getting Started
Welcome to Chapter 4 of the Parent Program online training. Here you will be introduced to Session 1 of the Program—Getting Started.
At the start of the Parent Program, leaders should take the opportunity to have participants complete the Tell Us What You Think evaluation tool. This tool helps leaders find out how much parents attending the program already know about healthy eating, physical activity, screen time, and how these behaviors affect weight. At the end of the four sessions, leaders will ask participants to fill out the same items on the Tell Us What You Think Now form to provide a good sense of how effective the program was in teaching them about eating healthier foods, being more physically active, reducing screen time, and how these behaviors affect weight.
After the parent participants fill out the evaluation tool, the leader will begin by presenting an introduction to the Parent Program and its objectives, as well as an overview of the four sessions.
To help parents better understand the context for We Can! and the Parent Program, the leader will engage the group in a discussion about the alarming increase in the rate of overweight, and why this is a very real concern for adults and children. The leader will then guide the discussion towards an exploration of the important role that parents play in fostering new behaviors related to food choices and physical activity, and the challenges involved. Finally, the leader will engage parents in an ongoing discussion of ways they can help their children eat well and be more physically active, as well as introduce them to various activities and tips to help them achieve these goals.
This first session is also a good time to ask parents to share their personal goals and expectations for participating in the We Can! Parent Program.
At the We Can! City site led by the Boston Public Health Commission, the Parent Program facilitators begin Session 1 by inviting each participant to share their goals and expectations for developing healthy family habits for eating well and physical activity. Open-ended discussions can help the parents become more comfortable and supportive of one another, as well as help you get to know them better.
Overweight and obesity are growing problems for adults and, increasingly, for their children. Part of the role of the leader will be to help make participants in the Parent Program aware of the severity of the problem. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2003–2004, 66 percent of American adults are overweight or obese.
Since 1980, overweight has more than doubled among children aged 2-5 and approximately tripled among youth aged 6-19. According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2003-2006, more than 16 percent of youth are overweight and more than 15 percent are considered at risk of becoming overweight.
Overweight in children is a serious concern because there is a strong likelihood that being overweight as a child will lead to being overweight as an adult. In fact, there is an almost 80% chance that overweight adolescents will become overweight adults.
The health consequences associated with childhood overweight are devastating. Experts fear an exponential increase in diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancer, and other health problems as children move into their 20s and beyond.
Even more troubling is the fact that these conditions are starting to occur at an earlier age than ever before. Many could find themselves disabled and having a diminished quality of life in what otherwise would be their most productive years. Some are also forecasting a 2–5 year drop in life expectancy, unless aggressive action manages to reverse obesity rates. The cumulative effect could be the country’s first generation destined to have a shorter lifespan than its predecessor.
Overweight is associated with a number of serious health problems―both physical and emotional.
We know, for example, that overweight children are 2–3 times more likely to develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and there has been a tenfold increase in type 2 diabetes. These all contribute to the risk of heart disease and heart attacks, in people as young as their 20s.
In Boise, Idaho, leaders at the Central District Health Department supplement the overweight and obesity statistics presented during Session 1 with local statistics, including statewide body mass index, or BMI, data, that help drive home the concern and need for parents to take action.
In order for parents to combat the problem of overweight, it is important that they understand what is causing the problem. This is the question we all have to ask ourselves: What has changed in the last 25 years to cause such a drastic turnabout in the well-being of our children?
There are many complex reasons for the increase:
- One is attitudes: Parents may not believe or understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle for a healthy weight.
- Another reason is social influences: Underserved populations battle poverty and have fewer healthy foods available to them.
- Another reason is medical advice: Doctors and other health care providers need to take a more active role in advising parents on the need for healthy lifestyles.
- The environment is another factor: Neighborhoods, schools, community design, and policy may not encourage healthy lifestyles.
- Finally, there are genetic contributors: Inborn diseases, chromosomal mutations, familial traits, and ethnic predisposition can all impact children’s well-being.
This generation’s way of life definitely plays a part in the growing obesity problem. As mentioned in the Parent Program Overview, there are several reasons why the numbers of overweight individuals have increased over the years.
- Eating larger portions,
- Eating out more,
- Consuming more foods with added sugar,
- Eating more high-fat foods,
- Spending more time sitting in front of computers and TVs, and
- Doing less physical activity.
Lifestyle, environment, and genetics all have an impact on our weight. But the bottom line is that adults and children are taking in more calories from food and drinks than they are burning through physical activity.
We Can! addresses this by making the concept of Energy Balance the cornerstone of the Parent Program. We’ll talk more about Energy Balance in Chapter 5, but here is a simple explanation to keep in mind and give to the group for now: In order to maintain Energy Balance, you require the same amount of calories taken in from food, or ENERGY IN, as calories burned, or ENERGY OUT.
Since parents and caregivers are the target audiences for the Parent Program, a key focus of this session will be getting across the message that parents and primary caregivers have a strong influence on children’s behavior and, therefore, can play a major role in teaching children healthy eating behavior. Here are some points for discussion.
- Parents have a major influence on their children’s health.
- The home is a primary source of nutrition for children.
- Parents are household policymakers. They make decisions about:
- Availability of foods in the home,
- Quantities of types of foods served,
- Physical and recreational activities for the family, and
- Amount of screen time for children.
- Parents can model healthy food choices and teach children about making their own healthy food choices.
- Parents want more nutrition information. And
- Relatively few programs target families and the home environment.
Most people know the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, but getting their families to eat healthier and be more physically active can be challenging.
The next discussion will explore the challenges your participants have faced in trying to improve their families’ food choices and physical activity levels, and how they have dealt with them.
After listening to the participants describe how they’ve tried to deal with their challenges, you can offer them some options for building upon the steps they are already taking. Here are three examples:
- Be a good role model.
- Make gradual dietary changes. And
- Plan opportunities for your family to be physically active together.
There are tip sheets on how to help children eat well and move more that are available as handouts to help participants during the session and at home.
An important activity in this session is called We Can! Try Tips to Eat Well and Move More. This is an activity that participants will do at the beginning and end of each session.
For this, you’ll begin by asking participants to select one eating well tip and one moving more tip to try between now and their next session. This slide shows just a few of the tips that are listed on the tip sheet. For example, an eating well tip parents might try at home is to drink a glass of water before a meal, or to ask for salad dressing “on the side.” A moving more tip might be walking your children to school, or taking stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.
At the beginning of Session 2, you will facilitate a discussion about participants’ successes and challenges in trying their ideas. Encourage participants to offer each other advice on how to make the activity work. At the end of Session 2, they will each pick another eating well tip and moving more tip to try before the next session.
The Leader’s Guide will prompt you to conduct this activity again during Program Sessions 3 and 4. You’ll want to encourage participants to try a different eating well and moving more tip each session. This activity is a great way for participants to practice taking small steps toward healthy behavior changes.
The Try Tips to Eat Well and Move More Tracking Sheet is found in the Leader’s Guide. You may photocopy and distribute it to participants before ending Session 1 to help them keep track of the tips they try between sessions and the progress they make.
The first session has an optional 15-minute Food Demonstration and Snack.
Whether you decide to include this or not, you can discuss the fact that often when we want a snack, we just “grab and go.” We grab something like a bag of chips or candy bar. This is an opportunity to explain that choosing healthier snacks can also be quick. There are handouts to assist you with this, such as Quick as a Flash Healthier Snacks —100 Calories or Less. During this discussion period, you might want to also consider sharing healthy snacks that parents can sample. We’ll talk more about healthier snacks during Chapter 6 of this training.
If you choose not to do this activity, you can adjust the times of the other activities and discussions, or add your own break.