How to have healthier kids

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP)- Researchers at the UMass Amherst have received a $3.1 million grant to study children in urban areas of Massachusetts, and explore the social factors that impact their health choices.

In a time when kids seem more interested in IPads than playgrounds, researchers at UMass Amherst will study friendship and health behavior among urban students from four middle schools in the state, following kids from 6th grade through 8th.

The greater Holyoke YMCA said kids in urban areas can face a unique set of barriers to staying healthy.

Jennifer Gilburg, the Associate Executive Director of the greater Holyoke YMCA, said “For young people who grow up in urban environments there’s so many social determinants of health that really impact the choices that they make. Whether that’s lack of green space because they are in an urban environment, or lack of access, access to fresh fruits and vegetables”.

Researchers hope that by studying friendship and health behavior, they can find more effective intervention methods to keep kids healthy. Some parents said from fitness to food, kids tend to follow what their friends are doing.

Chris Cardil, a father of two, said “Everyone wants to copy your friends you know? So he always asks me- my friend’s eating this why can’t I have it, you know”.

Parents said price can create a problem for some families, with healthier foods often coming with a higher price tag.

Riki Landers said “When people don’t have as much money to spend, it’s more expensive to eat healthier. You can’t find a lot of, you know, organic, or fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a lot of packaged foods, and a lot of convenience foods that are in there and those are the cheaper foods.”

Landers son Aidan said if kids can’t kick bad habits now, they’ll probably keep them through adulthood. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so I would say when kids learn what they do as kids it effects them long term” he said.

The grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow researchers to study urban students in Massachusetts for three consecutive years and evaluate their habits over time.

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