A new online app hopes to make parents more aware of children’s weight issues and resources available to help improve their health. Developed by researchers at the University of Alberta, the Resource Information Program for Parents on Lifestyle and Education (RIPPLE) e-tool compares a child’s weight, diet and lifestyle habits to healthy standards before offering a menu of information and services available to improve their health that are relevant to each family’s needs and abilities.
“RIPPLE is one of those opportunities to have an ‘Aha’ moment for parents,” said researcher Jill Byrne, adding they designed the tool to allow parents to look at their child’s health objectively while empowering them to work with healthcare professionals to make healthy changes.
While approximately one in four Canadian children is either overweight or obese, Byrne said, many parents may not realize how their family’s weight or lifestyle choices measure up to medical guidelines for healthy living.
Geoff Ball, director of the Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, who worked with Byrne on the e-tool, said only one third of patients currently referred for weight management by their physicians ever make it to the specialized clinic.
The tool involves a 15-minute survey where parents first input their child’s height and weight, which is then marked on a “healthy weight ruler” classifying their child as being either underweight, healthy weight, unhealthy weight or very unhealthy weight.
Parents then fill out more questions such as how much their child eats in a single meal, how many sugary beverages they consume in a day or how much sedentary time they have to compare those lifestyle choices to the defined healthy standard.
They are then presented with a suite of resources available to help, ranging from informational packages, to direct links to book appointments with local medical professionals, nutritionists or mental health clinics. Parents choose the resources they are most interested in, and that information is sent directly to them.
“We want them to be able to pick the things that are right for them at that moment,” said Ball.
For their study, researchers had 226 parents fill out the online survey while waiting for an appointment to see a pediatrician.
Though the results are preliminary, Byrne called them “promising” as parents seemed to be accessing the services advertised, and discussing the health implications of their child’s weight more openly with their physicians after taking the test.
“This is not going to be the cure,” said Byrne. “It needs to be that step in the right direction and nudging parents towards healthy behaviour change.”
Tracy Lebel was already concerned about the way her two sons were putting on weight when she took the RIPPLE survey while waiting to speak with a pediatrician.
She said the survey directed her to a physical activity guide and to information about healthy eating and portion sizes, helping her identify easy adjustments she could make in her family’s lifestyle to improve their health while empowering her to make those changes.
“The easier it is, the more likely parents are to pick it up,” Lebel said, adding her family is getting more activity, eating out less and cooking more healthy meals at home after using the tool.
Researchers are hoping the RIPPLE e-tool could be used in pediatricians’ offices much like one might find a blood pressure monitor in a pharmacy, and are planning to extend this study for use in Manitoba and in the Unites States.
Interested parents can access the tool online at rippleprogram.ca.