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UCCE educators empower parents to limit children’s screen time

The Issue

Today's children are expected to live shorter lifespans than their parents and childhood obesity is one contributing factor. The lifetime cost of obesity is estimated at $19,000 per child. Sugar- sweetened beverages (SSBs), fast foods, and screen time are factors related to unhealthy weight. Forty- two percent of Alameda and Contra Costa children are overweight or obese, 31% drank one or more SSB daily, and 24% ate fast food two or more times during the past week. Food companies spent $1.7 billion marketing unhealthy food to children and only $280 million marketing healthy foods. Children are exposed to food marketing through screen time, including TV, mobile devices, and computers. Educating parents about the benefits of serving their children healthy foods and beverages, reducing screen time, and encouraging family physical activity can contribute to better health outcomes and reduced health care costs.

What Has ANR Done?

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, (EFNEP), educators delivered a learner-centered curriculum, Eating Smart Being Active. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, (EFNEP), educators delivered a learner-centered curriculum, Eating Smart Being Active. The curriculum focused on teaching parents about healthy food choices, stretching their food dollar, and food safety. Child feeding tips and family physical activity ideas were shared at each lesson. During 2015-2016, 833 parents completed the eight- lesson series. Participants learned how to use food labels to choose healthier foods and beverages to reduce their children’s intake of added sugar and saturated fat. Water consumption was emphasized over SSBs and parents practiced choosing healthier meals when eating out. During food demos, parents sampled water flavored with fruit and herbs along with child-friendly, low-cost recipes for quick family meals and snacks.

The Payoff

Children consumed less sugar sweetened beverages and fast food

The EFNEP nutrition series was successful in empowering parents to reduce their children’s screen time and frequency of consuming SSBs and fast foods. A pre-post survey revealed that 70% of parents reported reductions in the frequency of their children’s SSB and fast food consumption and 33% reported reduced screen time. The positive outcomes support research that relates reduced screen time to improved diet quality. Reduced screen time can limit children’s exposure to ads for fast foods and SSBs. Parents became role models for healthy living, which has the potential to improve health outcomes for their children to reduce future health care costs due to obesity-related chronic disease.

Clientele Testimonial

“We are trying to limit our use of electronics equipment. We use less salt, sugar and increased physical activity. We make our own spa water using fresh fruit instead of sodas and powdered juices.”

“I try and add more fruit and vegetables to our meals. [We are] drinking less soda and more water. [We are] doing activities as a family instead of watching TV.” -program participants


Supporting Unit: Contra Costa County

and Alameda County, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)
Marisa Neelon, NFCS Advisor, 925-646-6128, mqneelon@ucanr.edu