Parenting intervention effective in preventing childhood obesity among siblings

While childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., a parenting intervention proven to help first-time parents prevent childhood obesity is helping second-born children as well, even without further training for the parents.

The work was recently published in the journal, Obesity.

According to Jennifer Savage Williams, associate professor of nutritional studies and director of Penn State’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research, INSIGHT is a home-delivered parenting intervention targeted to first-born children to reduce rapid weight gain in infancy and establish healthy growth trajectories during early life. First-time mothers and their infants were recruited after birth from Penn State Health Children’s Hospital between January 2012 and March 2014 and were given guidance on feeding, sleep, interactive play and emotion regulation.

“While responsive parenting interventions, such as INSIGHT, have shown promise among firstborn children, obesity and its prevention are relevant issues for all children, regardless of birth order,” she said.

The idea for the project stemmed from a talk with colleague Ian Paul, professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, about their children, who are of a similar age. “We realized that while many of us have more than one child, we have little to no information on the protective effects these interventions may have on siblings,” said Paul.

The results showed that BMIs of second-born children were lower at age 1 than second-born infants with parents who did not receive the intervention. “The continuing benefit of responsive parenting training is remarkable because parents of second children received no INSIGHT responsive parenting booster messaging in the observation-only evaluation,” said Williams.

This is important, because it shows how effective and cost efficient the program is. “This type of intervention can be resource intensive because it involved four home visits with the same nurse over the course of the three-year project. It was great to see an additional return on the investment,” Williams said. “It also gives support to a shift in thinking about family dynamics, and how these programs influence not just one individual but the entire family.”

In the future, Dr. Paul and I would like to test the efficacy of the INSIGHT responsive parenting intervention in more diverse populations and in larger communities. “We also need to understand family dynamics more in terms of rolling out other interventions and looking at the development of interventions that are family focused.”

This research was supported by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health as well as  Penn State’s Clinical & Translational Research Institute, the Prevention and Methodology Training Program, and the Methodology Center funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Other researchers on the new publication include Anna Hochgraf, doctoral candidate in human development at Penn State; Eric Loken, associate profess of educational psychology in the University of Connecticut; Michele E. Marini, data analyst/statistician in the Center for Childhood Obesity research; Sarah Craig, assistant research professor of biology at Penn State; and Kateryna Makova, Francis R. and Helen M. Pentz Professor of Biology at Penn State.

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