Parents’ Role In Adolescent Eating, Activity Behaviors

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A study examining the role of parents and the home environment in adolescents’ food intake, physical activity, body image and weight control behaviors, is among the research grants awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), from funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Recovery Act).

The study, Project F-EAT (Families and Eating and Activity in Teens), is led by Dianne R. Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota. The work will complement existing NHLBI-funded research by Dr. Neumark-Sztainer, whose research team is currently examining the role of peer, school and neighborhood characteristics on adolescent behaviors. The new two-year component will focus on the role of the family and home environment, and is made possible by the expansion of funding provided by the Recovery Act. The $737,481 award will enable the retention of funding for a total of 11 individuals (including researchers, post doctoral associates/graduate students, and two project assistants). The grant will also create two new research positions.

“Without support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we would not have been able to expand on this worthy research,” said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. “Through this work, we will be better able to develop interventions and public health programs that promote the weight-related health of young people.”


The rate of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years has more than tripled over the past three decades, and the rate among children ages 6 to 11 years has more than doubled. Parents play a key role in creating a home environment that fosters healthful eating and physical activity, according to Nabel.

Adolescents consume about two-thirds of their total calories within the home. The project will examine how the family and home environment are related to a teen’s weight, body image, weight control practices, dietary intake and physical activity. Parents or other caregivers of 2,400 ethnically and socio-economically diverse adolescents from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area will be mailed a questionnaire in English, Spanish and other languages or dialects. In order to include individuals who do not read, as well as to engage both mothers and fathers, the investigators will follow-up by telephone. The area school district is 33 percent African-American, 29 percent white, 23 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 12 percent Hispanic and 3 percent American Indian.

The study will collect information from parents and caregivers on such variables as the frequency and structure of family meals, the types of food served, the location of meals, portion size, rules about eating, and the visibility of foods at home. In addition, information regarding the practice and support of physical activity, available physical activity resources, and the availability of media such as televisions and computers within the home,will be surveyed.

Funding of Project F-EAT will build upon the NHLBI’s commitment to help prevent childhood obesity. As part of this commitment, the NHLBI, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Cancer Institute, established We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition) in June 2005. The science-based national education program brings families and communities together to promote healthy weight in children ages 8 through 13 through improved food choices, increased physical activity, and reduced screen time.


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