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The fight against childhood obesity has a champion in Rachel Blaine from CSULB’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Blaine, an expert in nutrition and dietetics, made parenting and feeding practices with young children the topic of her dissertation for her Doctorate of Science in Public Health Nutrition from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2015.

“My goal is to help educate students at CSULB who will become the health professionals of tomorrow,” she said. “The topic of obesity prevention is personal for me because I was an overweight teen. I empathize with people trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“There is a lot of evidence that shows what we taste and enjoy from an early age sets us up for long-term success or difficulty with our weight,” she added. “I have worked with infants less than 1 year old. That is why a lot of my work tries to help parents to introduce new foods and have a conversation with their kids about health.”

Blaine believes the fight against childhood obesity begins with each individual parent. “It is easy to say, ‘feed your child fruits and vegetables,’” she said. “But if a daughter watches her mom eating out of a bag or eating in a car or eating in front of a TV, that’s what she’s going to do, too. An important place to start for parents is in a childcare setting. It is important to talk with the childcare providers to see what can be done together.”

The role of childcare in obesity prevention is a new issue.

“Today’s children are spending more time in child care. On the average, it is 35 hours a week,” she said. “Economically, more women are entering the work force. That means their children will spend a lot more time in daycare settings where the majority of their calories come from. If we’re not regulating that, and not providing basic guidelines and standards, then the children are at the mercy of whoever is running the child care facility.”

Forcing children to clean their plates, current research indicates, only encourages them to dislike the food they are forced to eat.

“Parents who pressure kids to eat fruits and vegetables will raise kids who are less likely to enjoy fruits and vegetables later in life,” explained Blaine. “I advise parents to try, in their own ways and in their own lives, to be the mirror of behaviors they know their kids should be living. Eat as healthy as you are able and as healthy as you can afford. Just keep offering them the right food.”

Research shows that children of immigrants risk obesity when they switch to Western cuisine.

Rachel Blaine potrait
Rachel Blaine

“It is not good for their health to adopt a more Western diet,” she said. “I encourage newcomers to the U.S. to try, as much as they are able, to retain their original cultural foods. There are studies where researchers look at families who have lived part of their lives in central or South America before they come to the U.S. Their kids are more likely to have obesity.”

Blaine concludes that TV influences younger and younger viewers to snack.

“I was involved in a study of low-income moms and dads across multiple racial and ethnic groups to see where they gave their kids snacks and their reasons. What we found was that kids as young as 3 had their own TV tables where they ate all their food,” she said. “In fact, I remember interviewing a mom who said her child simply would not eat if the TV was not on. TV screens were being used to get busy little ones to calm down. Pairing snacks and television is a recipe for disaster because we eat more but we don’t feel satisfied.”

The future of fighting obesity may be in technology. “We’re going to be able to monitor all our biometrics,” she said. “But on the other hand, we are so inundated with technology for leisure, it may begin to take the place of being active. Everyone can relate to the sight of kids in public places sitting quietly with screens in their faces. We haven’t fully explored what that’s going to do to our society and our kids’ health. But we can probably guess.”