Parent Program, Participants, and Partners—All in a Day's Work for the Spring We Can!® Champions

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Posted April 13, 2012

We Can! community sites are led by individuals in a variety of professions—from teachers to faith leaders to health coordinators. In San Diego, two doctoral candidates have implemented We Can! with families of all socioeconomic levels, and they are our Spring 2012 We Can! Champions.

For Hannah Weiss, a former emergency room nurse and doctoral candidate at the University of San Diego (USD), We Can! is a major part of her life. As part of her dissertation, she and another doctoral candidate, Kaitlin Brasier, ran the We Can! Parent Program with 15 participants in the City Heights and La Jolla areas of San Diego.

In addition to conducting the We Can! Tell Us What You Think pre- and post-session questionnairespdf document icon (164 KB), she used an additional tool (the Family Nutrition & Physical Activity questionnaire) developed by the American Dietetic Association and the University of Iowa to evaluate risk factors for childhood obesity related to household behaviors and to measure behavior change.

Weiss and Brasier partnered with the Children's Physicians Medical Group (CPMG) and Rady Children's Hospital to implement the program. CPMG coordinated participant recruitment by using membership data to identify eligible families with children living in the target geographic areas and sending out invitations to participate at no cost. Based on program outcomes, CPMG and Rady Children's Hospital are considering making We Can! a sustainable program within their organization. Another partnership with the Childhood Obesity Initiative of San Diego also provided support—a representative of SPARK™ is part of the organization and donated equipment so the children could stay physically active in a separate room while the parents learned about physical activity, nutrition, and screen time with the Parent Program.

To keep parents coming back each week, a healthy dinner was offered at each We Can! session and the participants reviewed nutrition facts and discussed why the meal was healthy. CPMG also provides additional incentives in the form of a $50 farmer's market gift card, exercise balls, a Kids Portion Plate and Placemat, and We Can! pedometers—the perfect amount of encouragement needed to retain and motivate participants. Soofoo, a local, family-owned food company, donated bags of a healthy, multigrain mixture with lentils for families to take home and enjoy.

The discussion sessions of the Parent Program were the most helpful for the participants, according to Weiss. Each week, parents set goals for their families, such as not watching television while eating or going on a family walk three nights a week. A lot of the discussion focused on picky eaters, and the We Can! tip sheet about picky eaterspdf document icon (1.8 MB) helped parents navigate this challenging area.

"Because the group self-selected and was interested in being there, we had a lot of engaging conversation and discussion," said Weiss. "I'm really proud of the participant enthusiasm in the classes. We find that the discussion sessions are really helpful, and the parents are passionate about the content. The parent participants all agreed that they've learned a lot from We Can! and have been inspired to keep pursuing health."

Get to know our first We Can! Champion, Hannah Weiss, with a brief Q&A below:

Q: How did you get involved in addressing childhood obesity?
A: I've been a pediatric emergency room nurse for 12 years, and I got really passionate about childhood obesity about eight years ago when I saw the population getting so big. I worked in Atlanta, Georgia, as well, and that's when I was really blown away by it.

Q: What aspect of We Can! stands out to you?
A: I really like that We Can! views parents as role models—it's such a big factor in the obesity epidemic.

Q: What is one memorable moment from the We Can! Parent Program?
A: Some of the demonstrations are really big eye openers. Recently, we talked about fat and sugar content and compared Gatorade to juice and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Note: Check out the We Can! How Much Sugar and Calories Are in Your Favorite Drink? Tip Sheetpdf document icon (306 KB) for more information.

Q: Is there anything you would do differently with the We Can! Parent Program?
A: CPMG serves a large diverse population in southern California. Kaitlin and I, in collaboration with CPMG, had a narrow timeline to recruit. In the future I would spend more time and effort on the recruitment of participants, and building relationships with those I am collaborating with. CPMG was extremely supportive and generously funded the project. This was my first time running a program and working so closely with a large medical group. We experienced a learning curve. The innovative model implemented by using CPMG membership data to target eligible families is replicable and has the potential to reach a larger needed population.

Q: How did you learn about We Can!?
A: USD has been a community site since March 2008, thanks to our professor, Dr. Kathy James. We originally learned about We Can! from her and thought it was a great fit for our dissertation.

Q: Any last thoughts about We Can!?
A: It's a great curriculum to be offered for free, and definitely makes a difference in the community.

Last Updated: February 13, 2013