Lebanon, NH—Researchers at the Hood Center for Children and Families at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth have received a two-year, $275,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test a program that uses children’s educational TV characters to promote healthy eating and physical activity among preschoolers.
Collaborating with WGBH, the PBS Boston affiliate, “Using Media to Promote Health to Preschoolers” will deliver behavioral fitness messaging to young children using characters from the award-winning educational television series, PEEP and the Big Wide World®.
“Entertainment characters are often used to effectively market low-nutrient foods to young children,” said Meghan Longacre, principal investigator for the study and Research Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics at Geisel School of Medicine and a member of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “Our intervention uses this established marketing tactic—linking persuasive messaging with children’s favorite characters—to create building blocks for healthy nutrition and physical activity in children.”
Physical activity and eating habits developed in childhood can have long-lasting effects on obesity later in life. This project targets the primary settings where 3-5 year old children spend their time– home and child care—to promote fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity, and to help them develop attitudes and behaviors that may reduce their obesity risk.
“When it is developmentally appropriate and used in moderation, media can be a springboard to educational engagement for young children,” said Mary Haggerty, Director of Media Engagement for WGBH. “The WGBH Educational Foundation is thrilled to collaborate with the Hood Center for Children and Families to help promote health to preschoolers, leveraging our curriculum framework and the appeal of our characters from the Emmy Award-wining series, PEEP and the Big Wide World.”
“Using Media to Promote Health to Preschoolers” will be tested in four diverse childcare settings, including private daycare centers, a public preschool, and a HeadStart program. Parents will be invited to simultaneously use the curriculum at home, and surveys and classroom observations will be used to measure receptiveness and the feasibility of implementing the program.
The 12-week intervention will include:
- a child care and home-based behavioral curriculum
- ongoing teacher and parent support, including a specific study website hosted by WGBH
Quantitative and qualitative assessments of children’s physical activity, diet, and media use will be used to evaluate the impact of the intervention.
“This fusion between educational entertainment media and rigorous public health research exemplifies the type of counterprogramming recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a unique and collaborative strategy to promote healthy habits in young children,” said Longacre.
In 2009 Longacre received a Norris Cotton Cancer Center Pilot Grant for a preliminary study using social marketing to promote fruit and vegetable intake to young children, which served as the catalyst for the current project. The media based intervention developed in this study builds on two previous NIH funded observational studies obtained by the Hood Center on obesity prevention in children.
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