Making Families Healthy Goal of Huge Guelph Study

The goal sounds simple: creating a healthy lifestyle for children and families. But the methods to reach it are increasingly complex.

A number of young Guelph families are among the first participants in a massive University of Guelph study intended to reduce health-care costs in Ontario by starting at the source, with parents and their young children.

Jeff Grimes, an IT project manager, and his wife, Jennifer, an employment counsellor, have two kids. Their family is part of the one-year pilot project for the Guelph Family Health Study, which will eventually include 3,000 families.

That study will take place over two decades, allowing researchers to track children into early adulthood and see how lifestyle changes affect them.

The Grimes’ three-year-old son, Ben, is part of the pilot study. His sister, Quinn, 18 months old, is too young for the study, but will be impacted by whatever changes are implemented.

For their parents, the decision to participate was an easy one.

“We felt our kids were playing more outside at daycare than at home; we also noticed they were watching more TV than we liked when we got home,” said Jennifer.

“Our hope is the study will help us set some goals around being more active, especially in the winter when there is less opportunity for outdoor time.”

The pilot group will help researchers refine the larger project, said study co-leader Prof. David Ma, Human Health and Nutritional Sciences.

“We have 50 families participating in the pilot, which is the exact number we hoped for,” said Ma.

“This will be a large study with many measures, and it’s important to ensure all the moving parts worked seamlessly together and that the technology is effective. Our families help us learn what worked and what needs changes. When we expand, we will be in the best position possible for success.”

The research team implemented a series of interventions with the families. Each family set their own goals based on the behaviours they wanted to change.

“Interventions were tailored to help families where they most needed assistance, including diet, physical activity, sleep, screen time and meal times,” said study co-leader Prof. Jess Haines, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition.

“We helped families set goals and used motivational coaching to help families achieve their goals.”

For the Grimes, the study is an opportunity to make meaningful changes in the lives of their children before habits are set.

“We have been fortunate to meet some great people who have helped us set realistic goals based on our family’s needs,” said Jennifer.

“We want to be able to model healthy behaviours and habits for our children, and felt this study would be able to give us some direction.”