A Newcastle University-based feasibility trial is improving the health and wellbeing of dads and their preschool-aged children.
Led by Professor Phil Morgan from the University of Newcastle and funded by Greater Charitable Foundation, Healthy Youngsters, Healthy Dads teaches fathers evidence-based parenting strategies to improve family eating and physical activity behaviours and optimise their child’s physical and mental development.
The outcomes were recently published internationally in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health and detail results from the initial 24 dads and 24 youngsters who participated in the program at the University of Newcastle in 2018.
Over an eight-week period, fathers and their children took part in weekly educational sessions focused on healthy eating and physical activity, as well as practical sessions incorporating rough and tumble play, sport skills and fun fitness challenges. In addition, fathers attended two workshops delivering evidence-based parenting skills to optimise their child’s physical activity, dietary behaviours and social-emotional wellbeing.
Researchers found the Healthy Youngsters, Healthy Dads program improved kids’ physical activity by approximately 2900 steps per day and fathers by 1500 steps per day. The program also saw reductions in daily screen time use by an average of 64 minutes for dads and 28 minutes for the youngsters.
Program participant and father, Jamie Graham, said he joined the program to spend quality time with his son Archie while working on promoting healthy habits and behaviours.
“The biggest benefits of the program have been the lasting effect it’s had on our relationship, as well as the positive influence it’s had on the way Archie now wants to engage and play,” Jamie said.
“It’s been a number of months since we finished the program but we are both continually finding new fun ways to connect and be active instead of simply switching on the TV at home.
“I’ll find myself stopping to think about how I can incorporate movement and exercise into something, and at the same time, Archie will be wanting to play one of the fun games we learnt weeks ago.”
Professor Phil Morgan developed the program in collaboration with fellow researchers at the University of Newcastle; in recognition of the importance of the early childhood and preschool years.
“Early childhood is a critical stage of life when many behaviours are established and the impact of evidence-based parenting can benefit children not only physically, but also in social-emotional domains,” said Prof Morgan.
“The results of this initial study were instrumental in delivering a successful, larger randomised control trial of the program with 125 fathers and their pre-schoolers from the Newcastle community taking part.”
Since late 2019, the program has been delivered to an additional 143 families in a roll out in the Newcastle community.
Greater Charitable Foundation has provided funding of $350,000 to support the program, in an effort to help change the way men approach their health and set an example for the next generation.
“It’s wonderful to partner with a program that brings together families by encouraging participation in physical activities and education around certain lifestyle choices that ultimately lead to improved overall health for everyone involved,” said Ms Long.
“We look forward to watching the program continue to grow as it continues to have lasting and positive impacts on families all over the Hunter.”