Interventions aimed at parents more effective

Influencing younger customers to create positive lifestyle habits such as encouraging regular consumption of vegetables and fruit can be tricky, but the key here, according to new research, is targeting parents.

The example parents set has the most influence on child lifestyle behaviours. So, lifestyle interventions such as following a healthy diet should be aimed at engaging parents. According to researchers from Flinders University, the University of Newcastle, and the University of Wollongong, this is more effective than interventions aimed at both parents and their children.

To explore the impact of parental modelling on child lifestyle behaviours, the researchers conducted the ‘Time for Healthy Habits’ translational trial over a 12-week period. The trial included more than 450 parents of children aged two and six years and was offered as a free population-wide service across New South Wales between May 2019 and March 2020. Follow-up contact continued until March 2021.

The trial included two remotely delivered interventions (telephone and online) and also looked at how effective the two modes of delivery were on influence lifestyle behaviours.

While more parents expressed a preference for the online intervention, this still registered a lower level of engagement – with a completion rate of only 26% versus a telephone completion rate of 33%.

Study results indicate that parents who received the telephone intervention significantly increased their vegetable but not fruit consumption, relative to parents who had received online interventions.

“Because participant engagement remains a barrier for technology-based health interventions, it’s important that future research focuses on better understanding that barriers and enablers to parent engagement with technology-based intervention,” says Flinders University’s Dr Chris Rissel, who was part of the research team.

“We need this knowledge to optimise improvements to family lifestyle behaviours.”

The researchers conclude that the effectiveness of two remotely delivered healthy lifestyle interventions (telephone and online) can help increase parent fruit and vegetable intakes.

However, given the relatively small sample size of this trial, they recommend exploring more methods for optimising parent engagement with technology-based interventions, to enable greater health benefits for both parents and their children.

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