Health authorities are encouraging parents to “just say no” to junk food, but as any parent knows that’s easier said than done.
Now, a program by QUT called PEACH is helping parents to say no and to make it stick – for the long run.
PEACH blends behavioural education with nutrition and activity information in a six-month long supportive program at no financial cost to Queensland families. All that’s required is a bit of time and a commitment to positive change.
“Parents can often feel downright depressed when listening to public commentary saying they should take more personal responsibility for their children’s obesity,” PEACH Senior Research Fellow Helen Vidgen said.
“It can make them feel really powerless. It’s such a hard battle, when families are literally bombarded with food advertising, competing public health messages, nutrition misinformation and a society where entertainment overwhelmingly comes in the form of a screen – not to mention the time pressures of being a modern-day family.
“Parents need help to overcome such obstacles, which is where PEACH comes in. Most people know the basics of healthy eating- that kind of information is easy to find. What’s not so easy to find is how to motivate a family to change what they eat and to be more active. That’s the hard part, and the part where PEACH can really help.”
Mrs Vidgen said the cornerstone of the program was the PAT framework – the Planning Ahead Template.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment when it comes to food and this can lead to confrontation and fights,” she said.
“But the Planning Ahead Template is a tool that parents can call on to take the tension out of the situation, and to achieve a more peaceful transition to a healthier way of life.”
The Planning Ahead Template is:
- Identify the barrier to change
- Plan in advance
- Make your expectations clear
- Praise and encourage new and appropriate behaviour
- Manage rule breaking
“So a barrier to change might be that it has become a family habit to call in to a fast food franchise for a fatty burger and greasy chips washed down by sugary drinks every Tuesday night after soccer practice,” Mrs Vidgen said.
“It’s convenient because soccer practice finishes late and everyone is very hungry and the fast food outlet is the only place open at that time of the night. But a family could plan in advance to have a favourite, healthier meal waiting for them at home, prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, with a snack of apples in the car on the way home. The parents have told the kids this is going to happen, a few days before soccer practice. When the kids don’t complain on the way home, they are rewarded with something significant to them. When they break the rules and complain, there are consequences relevant to the child.
“Then the family needs to come together and talk about the process, and to discuss how it might be improved and how each person felt.
“And parents shouldn’t expect to get everything right straight away. Change is a long-term thing, particularly when it comes to something as important as health.”
The program PEACH (Parenting, Eating and Activity for Child Health) is available to families with a child 5-11 years who is above a healthy weight for their age. It is the largest obesity intervention program to date in Queensland.