New children’s book aims to teach simple, healthy habits alongside home visit program

Simple, healthy changes within families can help children develop long-term healthy habits.
Written by: Anne Heaney
Media contact: Adam Pope

Person holding book to showcase cover. Simple, healthy changes within families can help children develop long-term healthy habits.A team of University of Alabama at Birmingham Obesity Health Disparities Research Center researchers, in collaboration with creative partners Booster Shot Media, recently published a children’s book detailing simple, healthy changes families can make to develop healthy habits.

The book — “Where is My Hula Hoop?” — was published as part of a project called HABITS, a full research project funded by an OHDRC and led by Gareth Dutton, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, and Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, Ph.D., professor of medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. 

With the help of a community partner, Family Guidance Center of Alabama in Montgomery, the team has developed a program that equips federally funded home educators, who already deliver services to these households, to help families develop healthier habits around diet, exercise and healthy weight management.

“Home visiting has traditionally targeted a number of important social, familial, academic and health indicators, such as school readiness, age-appropriate vaccinations, physical health and mental health,” Dutton said. “But they didn’t fully cover topics related to a healthy lifestyle such as weight management and obesity prevention.”

An additional part of HABITS was the creation of the storybook by Booster Shot Media. In the story, the character Little Rabbit goes on a search for their missing Hula Hoop and along the way demonstrates healthy habits from the program: eating vegetables, avoiding sugary drinks, avoiding fried foods and moving more.

Because of the nature of the project, the team had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Dutton, in a pre-COVID world, delivering home visitation services was a convenient infrastructure. However, accomplishing the same mission post-COVID has presented complications.

“What was initially conceptualized as an in-home visitation program had to become a remotely delivered program,” Dutton said.

According to postdoctoral trainee Camille Schneider-Worthington, Ph.D., R.D., it was a mixed bag as to how different families have been able to participate. “Some do their program visits by Zoom, Facetime or some sort of video call; but there are quite a few families that don’t have that capability,” she said.

Despite the challenges, HABITS has been able to ramp up and recruit families. Currently, there are 125 families who have enrolled and completed baseline assessments, and 24 who have completed the study.

“It’s been a great partnership that the HABITS study has built, filling that gap to help leverage the existing infrastructure and relationships that the home educators have,” Dutton said. “They are now able to cover these broader topics with families and give them some concrete strategies and materials to use related to healthy habits around diet and exercise and healthy weight management.”

This work is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (U54MD000502).

To reserve your copy of the book, click here