Research Horizons


Parent-Led Groups Get Real About Managing Childhood Obesity

Smiling boy swimming

When family groups share wisdom, healthy lifestyle habits gain favorable reception

For lower-income families with children who are overweight, there can be wide gulfs between the interventions recommended by pediatricians and the worlds where kids live, learn and play.

However, when weight management discussions are driven primarily by parents, families are more likely to share real-world advice and participants may be more likely to accept and stick with healthier lifestyle changes. These and other promising findings from a feasibility study about parent-led group sessions were published in April 2023 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study was led by first author Michelle Gorecki, MD, MPH, and senior author Kristen Copeland, MD, both with the Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s.

Participants included 27 dyads of parents and children who were living in zip codes where residents may have experienced health iniquities resulting from a historical lack of investment in their neighborhoods. All of the children, ages 6 to 12 years, were above the 85th percentile in body mass index. About 77% were Black.

The families attended four to six group sessions, with some sessions held monthly and others every two weeks. In addition to high rates of satisfaction, parents reported finding value in making social connections through the groups that helped the families support each other as they worked to adopt behavior changes.

The families were invited to share how they found solutions to living in “food deserts” and finding ways to become more active despite living in neighborhoods where outdoor exercise often feels unsafe.

“People with lived experience are the experts of their contexts,” Gorecki says. “Many found practical tips useful to share with others. The best part was that participants were grouped by zip code as closely as possible to allow for hyper-local resource sharing.”

The co-authors say the lessons learned can apply to families living in many other cities.

“We are striving to get the word out about this approach to pediatric weight management, with the hopes doctors in other states may consider implementing something similar,” Gorecki says.

Publication Information
Original title: STEP IN: Supporting Together Exercise and Play and Improving Nutrition; a Feasibility Study of Parent-Led Group Sessions and Fitness Trackers to Improve Family Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors in a Low-Income, Predominantly Black Population
Published in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Publish date: April 28, 2023
Read the Findings

Research By

Michelle Gorecki, MD, MPH
Michelle Gorecki, MD, MPH
Division of General and Community Pediatrics

My research focuses on the early childhood social determinants of health, specifically addressing food inequity.

Kristen Copeland, MD
Kristen Copeland, MD
Division of General and Community Pediatrics

My research interests are in early education settings—how the child care environment affects children’s health.