FNPA may help prevent childhood obesity

Frances Myers

ISU researchers and kinesiology professors Michelle Ihmels and Gregory Welk worked with the American Dietetic Association and created a screening tool for children and parents known as the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Screening Tool.

The FNPA tool is a way to identify children who may be predisposed to becoming overweight or obese before they can become prone to the obesity epidemic.

“This was a project the American Dietetic Association asked Welk and me to be a part of about seven or eight years ago,” Ihmels said. “They had a whole list of areas they were doing research on and childhood obesity was one of them. This was also the area they wanted our department to help research.”

The tool was first utilized in the Des Moines Elementary School District about six years ago with 1,100 first graders and their parents. The Des Moines School District was chosen because this is one of the most diverse school districts in the state of Iowa.

“This age [first graders] is where what is known as the ‘adiposity rebound’ comes into play,” Ihmels said. “When children are toddlers, they have a lot of baby fat. When they are typically about 6 or 7 years old, their baby fat declines and their excess body fat is generally at its lowest level. The amount of body fat a child has increases as the child grows older.” 

This is where the screening tool comes into effect. First graders are at a stage where the screening tool can be used to act as a type of intervention.

This is basically a survey made up of 10 questions that address various aspects of the home environment the child is in.

“There are a number of screening tools out there that address specific categories of a child’s lifestyle such as physical activity, their eating habits, stress, the home environment and other factors but these are usually broader and have about 50 to 100 questions,” Ihmels said. “The FNPA Tool is more specific and it is very simple with only 10 questions for the parent to answer.”

Once parents take the survey, they are then notified of what the child’s weak areas are.

“We address what perhaps the parents can be doing at home. We also take into account what barriers there are. For example, in this day and age it can be very difficult both money and time wise for parents to cook a healthy meal for their children. Healthy food is more expensive than junk food and many times it is just easier to take my kids to McDonalds for a cheap, quick meal,” Ihmels said. “We work with the parents to decide how better decisions can be made.”

Currently, ISU researchers are working to create an online obesity screening tool.

“This tool will help answer the question, ‘What are the barriers?'” Ihmels said. “It will also help identify problem areas, and it will help in trying to create healthy mindsets by helping with goal setting.”