Shriver Staff member high fives Health U participant

 Last week I mentioned that the timing, topic, and desire to “give back” all contributed to our reasons for enrolling in Shriver Center research. This week we learn why families are excited about participating in the health promotion studies at the Shriver Center with their children. As a parent, I was personally thrilled to see exercise and healthy eating becoming a priority for our children and youth through these creative studies.

Learning about healthy nutrition and physical activity

Studies like Health U. have offered youth with intellectual disabilities a curriculum, materials and regular meetings at the Shriver Center to learn about healthy lifestyles through proper nutrition and physical activity. Participants and parents try out positive food choices, portion control, meal preparation and exercise delivered in an accessible, club-like setting. Parents of participants praised Health U. for creating positive changes in their children.

“My daughter Sara looks at physical activity and eating in a whole new way. She has a foundation to build on now, everything from portion sizes and understanding healthy foods better to taking part in track and field,” said one parent named Robin.

Making friends

Physical activity intervention studies like TUFF have been offered to teens at neighborhood YMCA’s. Kids get to work out and make friends locally, while researchers learn what it takes to keep them active and engaged in a community setting.

Helping researchers learn something new

From the TRAC study, teens and their parents describe how they spend their time and wear accelerometers to track their movement for a week. This helps researchers develop a baseline for physical activity so they can set and measure physical activity gains in future studies.

Acting as community advisors

The SPARC study invited parents and physical education professionals to work as advisors to our research team to name, study, and support the design of a physical activity study for teens with ASD. The result was a social YMCA-based walking club using a curriculum, social stories, pedometers, accelerometers and other tools to engage teens and measure their activity in a fun intervention in the community.

Parent advisor Susan Sutherland explains why she became involved. “I definitely used my son as motivation,” she said. “I wanted to make sure he saw that opportunities would be open to him similar to others.” (SPARC will be profiled in the next Shriver Center Spotlight newsletter coming in March).

About the author

Elaine GabovitchElaine is the Director of Family & Community Partnerships at the E.K. Shriver Center and an instructor in the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health of UMass Medical School and Family Faculty for the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Program at the Shriver Center.

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