Inside USD

Nursing Project Helps Families Become Healthier

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

nursemainIIt’s well-known that obesity has become an international health problem, one that disproportionately affects low-income and minority families. Finding culturally appropriate ways to address these issues can be challenging, but a pilot project by a University of San Diego nursing professor found that training parents to promote healthier lifestyles for their children shows promise in fighting the epidemic.

Kathy James, associate professor of nursing in USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, and Luz Gracia, a pediatric nurse practitioner who was working on her master’s degree, conducted a year-long project with a group of 18 Latino families at the Rosa Parks Elementary School in the City Heights neighborhood in San Diego. The USD Academic Strategic Fund supported the project.

Earlier this fall, James was invited to present her study, “Low Income Women’s Perception of Their Ability to Influence Children’s Health Behaviors,” at the 12th annual Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health conference in Providence, R.I.

James, who serves on a panel for the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, found that the school setting is a good one to help influence families’ behavior and that the mothers were eager to learn how to become role models for their children.

She and Gracia worked with the mothers to teach them how to read nutritional labels and learn how to reduce fat and sugar in their families’ diets. Activities also included weekly fitness walks and sharing tips and strategies on healthy eating.

“The mothers loved to get together and talk and share” ways to promote healthier lifestyles for their children, James said. They “just needed some direction and help with parenting.”

Reports from the moms, who were given pedometers to measure activity, showed positive trends in reducing the consumption of junk food and sweetened beverages and increasing childhood activity with fewer hours spent in front of the television. The study also found that the women could use more help identifying risk factors such as high blood sugar and cholesterol and finding ways other than using food to nurture their children.

Earlier this month, James and Gracia began another project in the Linda Vista neighborhood surrounding USD. With a grant from the School of Nursing, more data will be collected on improvements in the participants’ health and a school nurse will be available to follow up with families once the initial project is over.

Working on these projects is rewarding, James said. The mothers are “so appreciative” of the opportunity to improve their children’s health. And in the long run, these kind of efforts can “save everybody money and improve the quality of life” for at-risk communities.

— Liz Harman

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