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Program Helps Kids Switch Over to Healthy Behaviors

TUESDAY, Oct. 6 -- A family, school and community intervention program improved children's eating and exercise habits and reduced the amount of time they spent in front of the television, a U.S. study has found.

The eight-month program, called The Switch, included 1,323 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at 10 schools in Lakeville, Minn., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The program was developed by the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF).

Compared to other children, those taking part in The Switch program watched an average of two fewer hours of TV, ate two more servings of fruits and vegetables per week, and walked 300 more steps per day. The positive effects on children remained significant at the six-month follow-up evaluation, according to a news release from Iowa State University.

"The successes in this study were modest, which is what one would expect. People usually make incremental changes, but those add up over time," lead researcher Douglas Gentile, director of research at the NIMF and assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State, said in the news release.

The findings appear in the Sept. 18 online edition of the journal BMC Medicine Evaluation.

The Switch program has three components -- community, school and family, the researchers explained. The community part features public education about healthy living, while the school component provides teachers with materials and methods to integrate important health concepts into the school day. For families, there are monthly packets that provide behavioral tools to help them improve their health.

"The program is designed to be a more comprehensive approach to childhood obesity prevention," Gentile said in the news release. "It results from several lessons we learned while creating interventions over the past 15 years. One is that focusing on kids can work, but unless the family is on board, you're not going to get much movement. So the ideal program would be to work at multiple ecological levels all at once so that people are getting repeated, parallel, overlapping messages at the individual, family and community levels."

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Posted: October 2009