Grandparents as Champions for Health Promotion
Marissa Kobayashi, MHS; PhD Candidate, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Danielle M. Wischenka, PhD; Behavioral Medicine Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow, VA Palo Alto Healthcare System
Societal and economic shifts have contributed to both increased numbers of multigenerational households1 and a growing reliance on grandparents to provide childcare. Grandparents have a variety of responsibilities within their families, including helping with homework, transportation, and other caregiving tasks. Grandparents also report enjoying their roles passing down wisdom, heritage, and morality.2
The involvement of grandparents in daily family life has generally been found to be beneficial to grandchildren’s well-being and socio-emotional health;3,4 however, research also indicates that grandparents’ involvement can negatively impact grandchildren’s weight status, diet, and physical activity.5,6 Interestingly, grandparent caregivers are in a unique position to promote healthy diet and exercise behaviors in their grandchildren.
This article outlines several “champion tips” and fun activities to help parents and grandparents work together to promote nutritious eating and good health.
Champion Tip #1: Help your grandchildren eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods from different
food groups in recommended amounts. For more information on which nutrient-dense foods to choose, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm7
Fun Activity: Ask your grandchildren to help prepare delicious meals in the kitchen. Use this opportunity to talk to them about being adventurous and encourage them to try new and healthy foods. For age-appropriate ideas to involve children in the kitchen, visit:
Champion Tip #2: Limit your grandchildren’s consumption of added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium.
Fun Activity: Have your grandchildren play a ‘blindfolded taste test.’ See if they can detect different tastes such as sweet, sour, and bitter. Ask them to rate their favorites. This is a great way to introduce them to new foods that are lower in sugars, fats, and sodium!
Champion Tip #3: Find healthier alternatives by choosing nutrient-dense foods and beverages that are low in refined sugars, starches, trans fats, and sodium. Replace soda with fruit-infused water or substitute whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta.
Fun Activity: Eat the rainbow! Help your grandchildren get excited about tasting all the colors of the rainbow by preparing colorful foods together. Blend up a healthy smoothie that includes colorful fruits and vegetables (e.g., blueberries, bananas, strawberries, spinach) or prepare a vibrant salad.
For tips on eating healthy on a budget or accessing resources to food, visit:
Like Grandparent, Like Grandchild
Champion Tip #1: Be a role model who makes healthy choices by selecting nutrient-rich foods for both yourself and your grandchildren to consume.
Fun Activity: Teach grandchildren about nutrition by taking them to the grocery store. Have a scavenger hunt in the shop, or see if they can spot the labels with the least amount of sodium, sugar, etc. Don’t forget: your grandchildren look up to you and notice what you are eating! Try to make healthful choices when possible.
Champion Tip #2: Avoid screen time during meals and eat together. TV and other screens during eating can cause distraction and mindless eating, which increases caloric intake and leaves you feeling hungry. For WHO screen time guidelines, visit: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/24-04-2019-to-grow-up-healthy-children-need-to-sit-less-and-play-more11
Fun Activity: Turn off the TV and talk to your curious grandchildren. You can share stories about your heritage, culture, or ancestry. Alternatively, you can tell them a story that imparts pearls of wisdom.
Champion Tip #3: Avoid using ‘junk food’ as a reward.
Fun Activity: Find different ways to praise and incentivize your grandchildren to engage in positive behaviors, such as earning tokens to be exchanged for a reward. For every color of the rainbow they eat they can earn a token, and 15 tokens can be exchanged for an extra half hour of playtime or screen time.
Champion Tip #1: Use technology to help the whole family move! Screen time can be used to help shake things up and increase physical activity.
Fun Activity: Use smartphones to download applications to get kids moving (e.g. IronKids,FitnessKids), or stream videos of their favorite songs. Have a dance competition with your grandchild. See who can score the most points by busting out the best dance moves! For physical activity guidelines by age, visit: https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things/12
Champion Tip #2: Spend quality time with your grandchildren while engaging in physical activity together.
Fun Activity: Teach your grandchildren a physical activity that you enjoy, or enjoyed at their age, such as dancing or hiking. You can take the opportunity to tell them stories about your childhood and create memories for them to share with their grandchildren in the future!
Whatever tips you decide to take on as a family, we suggest that you first discuss them with your children. Both grandparents and parents need to establish health rules and decide which strategies work best for their families.
Sharing a special connection with grandchildren, grandparents are uniquely positioned to serve as champions in health promotion and the prevention of childhood obesity efforts.
- Livingston, G. (2013). At grandmother's house we stay: One-in-ten children are living with a grandparent. Pew Research Center.
- David, Patty, and Brittne Nelson-Kakulla, Ph.D. 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey: General Population Report. Washington, DC: AARP Research, April 2019. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00289.001
- Griggs, J., Tan, J. P., Buchanan, A., Attar-Schwartz, S., & Flouri, E. (2010). ‘They’ve Always Been There for Me’: Grandparental Involvement and Child Well-Being. Children & Society, 24(3), 200-214.
- Buchanan, A., & Rotkirch, A. (2018). Twenty-first century grandparents: global perspectives on changing roles and consequences.
- Chambers, S. A., Rowa-Dewar, N., Radley, A., & Dobbie, F. (2017). A systematic review of grandparents’ influence on grandchildren’s cancer risk factors. PloS one, 12(11), e0185420.
- Young, K. G., Duncanson, K., & Burrows, T. (2018). Influence of grandparents on the dietary intake of their 2–12-year-old grandchildren: A systematic review. Nutrition & dietetics, 75(3), 291-306.
- Childhood Nutrition Facts | Healthy Schools | CDC. (2017). Retrieved 13 August 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). (n.d.). Parent tips: Getting Kids in the Kitchen. Retrieved August 13, 2019 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/downloads/cookwithchildren.pdf
- Healthy Eating On A Budget. (2017, April 18). Retrieved 13 August 2019, from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget
- Need Help? Find Food. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from https://www.feedingamerica.org/need-help-find-food
- To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more. (2019, April 25). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/24-04-2019-to-grow-up-healthy-children-need-to-sit-less-and-play-more
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things/