Family education programs may increase produce consumption

August 14, 2013

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that public education programs may be able to increase produce consumption and lower sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among Hispanic families.

Hispanics in the Midwest have among the highest obesity rates (30%) in the United States, and 24% of Latino children between the ages of 6 and 13 are overweight or obese. In the six-week study, the researchers attempted to change dietary behaviors, including increasing the number of servings of fruit and vegetables that children and parents consumed and decreasing their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Participant families were recruited in the community. In each weekly session, parents and children were separated for age-tailored lessons, and then reunited for taste testing and demonstrations. The rest of the 2-hr session was spent in joint family physical activity and a family mealtime class.

The first principle of the program was to involve family. Many programs, delivered at school, target only the child, but kids have very little ability to choose the foods they eat at home. The second principle was “mas y menos,” meaning “a little more, a little less.”

“We believe it’s important to know your audience, and we tried to address the real needs of these families. For example, we taste-tested tortillas made with vegetable oil versus others made with lard and urged parents to go for the healthier alternative. Also, if we could get them to substitute one corn or whole-wheat tortilla for a flour tortilla daily, we felt—mas y menos—that we’d made progress,” said Angela Wiley, Professor of Applied Family Studies, University of Illinois.

When the 73 participating families began the intervention, 19% of the children did not eat fruit at all, and 62% ate less than one serving of vegetables daily. Nearly half (48%) drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage each day. When the program ended, fruit and vegetable consumption had increased by about a serving. Additionally, there was a drop in the children’s daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by over 50% at the two-month follow-up evaluation.

Cost and preparation time were seen as barriers to serving more fruits and vegetables. Parents were encouraged to purchase frozen veggies and to decrease their reliance on fast-food restaurants.