Improving Healthy Dietary Behaviors, Nutrition Knowledge, and Self-Efficacy Among Underserved School Children With Parent & Community Involvement

BACKGROUND: University–community partnerships through coordinated school health programs (CSHP) can play a key role in decreasing child obesity. The main objective of this study was to measure over a 1-year period whether a CSHP with parental, school, and home-based components to promote optimal nutrition will reduce BMI percentiles and z-scores and improve dietary behaviors in a sample of low-income, school-aged children.

METHODS: The intervention included, Kids Nutrition and Fitness, a 6-week nutrition, physical activity educational after-school program, and school activities, including creation of an Advisory Committee that made wellness policies. A randomized controlled pilot study evaluated the effectiveness of the intervention that contrasts 251 (n = 251) predominantly Mexican-American 8 to 12 year olds from low-income Los Angeles–based schools. A mixed model of repeated measures analysis assessed changes in BMI percentiles and z-scores, dietary behaviors, food preferences, knowledge, and self-efficacy measured by a reliable/valid questionnaire. These data were collected at baseline and at 4 and 12 months postintervention. Process measures, collected via focus groups with parents, evaluated parent/community involvement.

RESULTS: At the 12-month follow-up, children in the intervention group decreased their BMI on average by 2.80 (p = 0.04) and BMI z-scores on average by 0.48 (p = 0.03) and they increased their daily dietary intake of vegetables on average by 1.51 (p = 0.03), fruit on average by 2.00 (P = 0.001), and 100% fruit juice by 1.12 (p = 0.05). An increase of 1.02 (p = 0.03) was seen in self-efficacy of healthy food choices (p = 0.03). Parent (P = 0.04) and community (p = 0.001) involvement significantly increased to 100% participation by the 12-month follow-up.

CONCLUSIONS: A CSHP using parent and community involvement was effective in reducing the risk of obesity in school-aged Mexican- American children attending low-income schools. The findings need to be examined in a larger, more diverse sample of children.