UF launches healthy lifestyle program for kids in Columbia County

This spring, researchers at the University of Florida will begin a study examining a healthy lifestyle program for young children and their parents in Columbia County.

The Healthy Kids Program is designed to help parents and children ages 3 to 7 who are at the higher end of the growth chart improve diet, increase physical activity and modify the home environment in order to promote healthy lifestyles. The no-cost program helps families work together to learn how to manage real-life problems and make gradual changes.

“Rates of childhood and adult obesity are higher in rural areas compared to urban areas,” said David Janicke, Ph.D., the study leader and an associate professor of clinical and health psychology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “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. 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 the UF/IFAS Columbia County Extension Service. The project is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“We have received a number of requests from families and physicians regarding programs to help establish healthy eating and activity habits for young children,” Janicke said. “Unfortunately, easily accessible options for this type of treatment are hard to find in rural settings. This study can benefit families in rural areas by providing a local option to help establish healthier eating and activity patterns for children who may be at greater risk for becoming overweight or obese in the future.”

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 Columbia County with children between the ages of 3 and 7 who are at the higher end of the growth curve (above the 85th percentile for weight and height). All meetings will be held at the UF/IFAS Columbia County Extension Service Office, 971 W. Duval St., Suite 170, Lake City. Families will be given $10 per session for travel costs.

Team members are currently screening interested participants. 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.