In order to tackle childhood obesity and encourage kids to live healthier lives, researchers have developed an intervention program that offers a more comprehensive approach to the issue.
They found that a family, school and community intervention program helps children live healthier lives and could be a new tool in the fight against the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.
In the study, children who participated in The Switch program developed by the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) - watched an average of two fewer hours of television and also consumed two more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than those who weren't in the program.
The program participants also walked 300 more steps per day.
"The successes in this study were modest, which is what one would expect," said Iowa State Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile, the lead researcher and director of research for NIMF.
"People usually make incremental changes, but those add up over time," he added.
The researchers evaluated the eight-month intervention program in a group of 1,323 students (third, fourth and fifth graders) and their parents from 10 schools.
The Switch program encourages children to "Switch what they Do, View and Chew" and features three components: community, school and family.
The community component promotes awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles using paid advertising, such as billboards; and unpaid media, including editorials.
The school component reinforces the Switch messages by providing teachers with materials and methods to integrate key health concepts into the school day.
And in the family component, participating families receive monthly packets containing behavioural tools to assist them in altering their health behaviours.
"The program is designed to be a more comprehensive approach to childhood obesity prevention," Gentile said.
"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's 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," he added.
The study is posted online in BMC Medicine Evaluation.