UF launches healthy lifestyle program for kids in Citrus, Clay counties

This fall, researchers at the University of Florida will begin a study examining the effectiveness of a new healthy lifestyle program for children and parents who live in Citrus and Clay counties.

The Healthy Kids Program is designed to help parents and children ages 3 to 7 at the higher end of the growth chart establish healthy eating and physical activity habits, as well as promote a home environment that supports a healthy lifestyle. In the program, parents learn how to manage real-life challenges related to nutrition and fitness, and how to make gradual lifestyle changes. There is no cost to families who participate.

“While many young children who are at the higher end of the growth curve do grow out of their extra weight, we are beginning to see more and more children who do not,” said David Janicke, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator and an associate professor of clinical and health psychology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “Young children who continue to be at the higher end of the growth curve are at greater risk for long-term obesity, as well as associated health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes.”

The Healthy Kids team includes physicians, nurses, nutritionists, behavioral health psychologists and an exercise physiologist. The study is a joint effort between researchers at UF Health, UF/IFAS Extension and local UF/IFAS County Extension offices. The project is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“The UF study may help to fill a need in rural areas for programs that help children establish healthy eating and physical activity habits,” Janicke said. “Rates of childhood and adult obesity are higher in rural areas compared to urban areas, and unfortunately, easily accessible options for health promotion programs are hard to find in rural settings.”

Healthy Kids is a four-month program that aims to help children and parents work together to establish behaviors that can promote healthy weight and lifelong health. Parents will receive information to help them navigate consumer marketing practices that may challenge parents’ efforts to make healthy choices for their families. They will learn strategies to help support and motivate their children to try new foods and to be more physically active. Children and parents also will sample healthy foods during meetings and participate in games and other activities.

During the first two months of the program, participants will attend group meetings once a week and then will meet biweekly for the last two months. Families also will be followed for six months after the group meetings end to assess the long-term impact of the program. Half the families will begin the program soon after enrolling and the other half of participating families will start the program 10 months after registering.

The Healthy Kids Program is available to families who live in Citrus and Clay counties with children between the ages of 3 and 7 who are at the higher end of the growth curve. Team members are currently screening interested participants, with the first Healthy Kids programs beginning in August. All meetings will be held at the local UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension offices in participating counties. Families will be given $10 per session for travel costs.

Families interested in signing up for the program or who have questions should call the Healthy Kids office toll-free at 1-866-673-9623. Team members will help parents determine their family’s eligibility for the program. For more information visit the Healthy Kids website.