RESEARCHERS DEVELOP INNOVATIVE WEB PROGRAM THAT HELPS KIDS WITH
DIET AND EXERCISE
BACKGROUND: With childhood obesity rates at record highs, a new
interactive Internet program is helping children reduce dietary
fat and increase exercise. A team of researchers from Marquette
University reports on a new program that helps children to a more
healthful lifestyle. Researchers say the program reaches students
the way they learn today, through the use of the Internet and
videos, making learning fun.
"An Internet and video program for seventh-grade students,
who are most at risk for the ill effects of poor nutrition and
lack of exercise, improved both nutrition and exercise,"
says lead researcher Dr. Marilyn Frenn, an associate professor
of nursing at Marquette. Frenn and her colleagues conducted a
two-month study, during which 137 children used an interactive
Internet program and saw short videos that encouraged them to
reduce fat and increase exercise.
The Internet part of the program included radio buttons, which
provided information on diet and exercise and enabled selections,
and interactive message boards. The children could also have their
diet and exercise questions answered by personal e-mails from
nursing students. The videos help children see how other children
handle similar problems and suggested ways that they could use
to improve their own diet and increase the amount of time they
"We work with the kids to help them think about what they're
doing, what's recommended, the barriers they see to improving
diet and exercise, and how can they get past them," Frenn
says. Most of the children came from low-income families, Frenn
says. These children are considered to be at the greatest risk
for becoming obese and having high blood pressure, especially
black and Hispanic children, she adds.
Among the children who participated in at least half of the eight
class periods, there was significant improvement in both diet
and exercise, Frenn says. For children who showed improvement,
the percentage of dietary fat dropped from about 31 percent of
their caloric intake to about 30 percent. But for those in the
control group, the dietary fat remained about 32 percent throughout
the study, the researchers report. In addition, the successful
children increased their levels of exercise by an average of 22
minutes per week compared to children who attended fewer sessions,
who had a 66-minute decrease in their weekly exercise.
As part of the program, the children were encouraged to ask their
parents for fruits or vegetables instead of junk food. Children
also got recipes online for low-fat snacks and breakfast foods.
Frenn's team found that among low-income students there was less
family support for diet and exercise. In addition, teenage girls
needed more support to increase exercising. However, they found
that Hispanic children in communities with strong cultural ties
were more likely to lower dietary fat and had more support at
home than those in more culturally diverse areas, Frenn says.
By the end of the study, the children knew how many calories
they should eat and how many of these calories should come from
fat. They also learned that having fast food more than once a
week increases their risk of obesity, Frenn says.
Frenn believes this program can be expanded and used in middle-school
health and science classes. She and her colleagues continue to
fine-tune the program, and plan to retest the students in this
study after a year to see if they continue to eat healthy and
The Marquette researchers presented their findings March 4 at
the annual meeting of the American Heart Association Annual Conference
of Cardiovascular Disease, Epidemiology and Prevention in San
For more information on nutrition, exercise and prevention of
heart disease and stroke, log on to the American Heart Association's
web site at: www.americanheart.org