New program takes family approach to combating childhood obesity

2 June 2010

A new Australian healthy eating and childhood obesity prevention program targeted to parents and their preschool children is being evaluated by Deakin University health researchers.

The researchers, Dr Helen Skouteris, Professor Marita McCabe, Professor Boyd Swinburn and Ms Briony Hill, are calling for parents of preschool children aged two to four years to take part in the healthy lifestyle program called MEND 2-4 (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition...Do It!).

More than 20 per cent of Australian preschoolers are overweight or obese. Early prevention is seen as one essential step in combating the obesity epidemic across the lifespan.

“The preschool years are a critical period in the development of childhood obesity because the eating and physical activity habits that contribute to obesity later in life become established during these formative years,” Dr Skouteris explained.

“Given that the main influence on preschool children is the family, many of the modifiable risk factors for overweight and obesity in the preschool years will have roots within the family context.”

The MEND 2-4 program was developed in the last two years by a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals and researchers at MEND UK and is now being run for the first time in Australia. The equivalent program for older children, MEND 7-13, has been shown to be effective in reducing childhood overweight and obesity in the UK with sustained benefits over a 12 month period.

“The MEND 2-4 program provides information to parents of two to four-year-olds and supports them to establish and/or maintain healthy behaviours and attitudes around diet and physical activity for themselves and their preschoolers. Trained MEND 2-4 leaders run the program in local community centres and the program is free,” Dr Skouteris said.

The researchers are looking for 240 parents living in Victoria with children aged 24 to 36 months to take part in this study. Parent-child pairs will participate in a free 10-week healthy lifestyle program either this year or in 2011, and will complete a series of measurements and questionnaires at four time-points across a 12 month period. The program is being offered in the Baw Baw, Bentleigh-Bayside, Cardinia, Greater Dandenong, Ballarat and Footscray areas.

Parents interested in taking part or wanting further information should contact Briony Hill at or (03) 9244 6538.

News facts
  • New program to tackle childhood obesity being evaluated by Deakin health researchers
  • Program based on UK intervention that was effective in reducing overweight and obesity in older children
  • Parents and their preschool children being invited to participate

Media contact

Dr Helen Skouteris
School of Psychology
0414 409 563

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2nd June 2010