Many parents of young children can relate to the challenges of getting babies to eat healthy, whether babies throw food on the floor, refuse to eat healthy foods or only want to eat sugary snacks.
Despite these challenges, healthy eating during infancy is important. The foods babies eat when they are young can influence their dietary preferences later in life, and proper nutrition is important for child development. Babies’ diets also influence their growth and weight, which could contribute as a risk factor for obesity later in childhood and adulthood.
“Programs that currently exist to address healthy eating and feeding for babies often miss the mark in addressing the real barriers and challenges that families face,” says Cathy Stough, assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Psychology and lead researcher on a new study to develop a program for infants at risk for health disparities.
“Often these programs are made by researchers and health care workers without getting input from families and community members that know what it is like raising a child in their communities. Our project is looking to change that,” says Stough.
The project will include families and communities in the development of the program through an advisory board involved in making decisions throughout the study, asking families and community members what the program should include and asking families who receive the program what they like and do not like about it. The information included in the program will be based on what families and community members say is needed.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, will be conducted over the next two years and is a collaboration between UC and colleagues from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Every Child Succeeds, a nationally recognized, evidence-based home visiting program that helps new parents create nurturing, healthy home environments throughout Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. The goal is to develop and pilot a plan to address infant nutrition and behavior outcomes.
Every Child Succeeds is a regional nonprofit that seeks to ensure an optimal start for children and has served more than 28,000 families in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky since its inception 22 years ago. The core strategy is home visitation and families served are typically low income with additional risk factors.
The study will include development of a healthy eating program and then testing it with approximately 30 infants during home health visits. The parents will share information about their infants’ diet and behaviors before and after the program, and researchers will see if there are measurable changes for families that receive the program compared to those that do not.
Stough is a pediatric psychologist with clinical and research interest in child eating behaviors, nutrition and obesity. She is also director of the Healthy Bearcat Families Lab. Her research interests include weight management and eating behaviors of young children, including preschoolers, toddlers and infants. Her research examines the relation of child appetite characteristics (e.g., satiety responsiveness, food responsiveness), parental feeding behaviors (e.g., using food to calm the child) or beliefs (e.g., fear of the child being underweight) and early growth trajectories (a risk factor for future obesity). Additionally, Stough’s program of research develops and tests the efficacy of obesity prevention programs for young children, including children at risk for health disparities.
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