Preventive care has become a cornerstone of modern medicine, with an increasing emphasis on promoting healthy habits to prevent disease before it arises. However, healthcare providers like Dr. Wilson at Covenant Cares are faced with a unique challenge in promoting healthy habits among families. Parental health behaviors significantly influence children’s physical activity and dietary habits, and providers need to find ways to engage both parents and children in preventive care. Dr. Wilson explained, “A lot of primary care providers are not happy with the status quo. We don’t like the fact that we have to wait until someone is sick in order to really impart our clinical judgment. So, we would love to find ways to integrate prevention and risk reduction and all of these things into our daily practice… Especially family medicine. We take care of the whole family- Mom, dad, grandma, children… When we impart our advice, it trickles down through the entire family.” In this blog post, we’ll explore strategies for creating generational prevention in family medicine and how PreventScripts is helping providers achieve this goal through an enhanced care strategy.

The Impact of Parental Health Behaviors on Children’s Health and Wellbeing

Childhood obesity has become a staggering burden on communities across the country. According to researchers at The Harvard School of Public Health, rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the U.S. over the past three decades. These researchers also discovered that children whose parents adopt five essential healthy practices are 75% less likely to suffer from obesity. The CDC has also sounded the alarm, reporting that children with a parent with high blood pressure are twice as likely to develop the condition themselves.

In terms of nutrition, children’s taste buds and biology can change depending on what foods they consume, which is influenced by what foods parents provide. For example, exposure to a variety of fruits and vegetables during early childhood can help children develop a taste for these foods, making them more likely to continue consuming them throughout their lives. In contrast, a diet high in processed and sugary foods can negatively impact taste preferences and increase the risk of childhood obesity. Research also suggests that parental feeding practices, such as restricting or pressuring children to eat certain foods, can impact a child’s eating habits and relationship with food. Studies have found that children who are exposed to restrictive feeding practices may be more likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, such as overeating or binge eating.

Overall, parents play a crucial role in shaping their children’s dietary habits and physical activity levels. By modeling healthy behaviors, providing nutritious foods, and using positive feeding practices, parents can help their children develop healthy habits that can have a lasting impact on their health and wellbeing.

Implications For Providers

The influence of parental health behaviors on children has significant implications for healthcare providers striving to promote healthy habits among those in a parental role in their families. This presents a unique challenge for providers like Dr. Wilson at Covenant Cares, who aim to provide proactive care for the whole family.

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Natalie Davis MD, recently shared insights on how we helped Dr. Wilson achieve his preventive goals at the Kentucky & Indiana HIMSS conference. This sparked a conversation about the challenges of keeping patients engaged with their goals. Dr. Anonymous raised a concern, saying, “Of all my patients, there’s even one at 16 years old, they think they’re invincible to the world. They eat, do what they want. I mean, this is typical. How do you get them engaged to even want to do that?”

Dr. Davis responded, “Well, I think that workflow is the same as the adult workflow. In my experience in working with teenagers, the parents are harping on the kid. The kid may need to lose some amount of weight. There’s two scenarios: one is the parents are struggling to help themselves, and the other is a dynamic where a parent is really interacting with the kid a lot around what the child is eating. Then we start to see this negativity around food. There’s a dynamic there.”

Approaching The Challenge

The shared environment of families, i.e. shared social determinants of health, adds complexity to addressing parental barriers to healthy habits for pediatric patients. According to research from the American Heart Association, engaging caregivers in healthy habits are important components of reducing obesity and cardio-metabolic risk across the lifespan of pediatric patients, but they are most effective as part of a multi-level, multi-component prevention strategy. To provide proactive care for the whole family, providers face a battle to prevent disease on multiple fronts: counterproductive influences both inside and outside of the home.

We are excited to share that we are rolling out our new pediatric assessment feature, allowing providers to enroll patients ages 13-17 in our program. This allows providers to take a top-down, bottom-up, or countercurrent approach to preventive care. The top-down approach allows providers to help pediatric patients by improving the health behaviors of the family’s adults and role models, facilitating a ‘trickle down’ effect of healthy habits through the whole family. Alternatively, the ‘bottom-up’ approach enrolls at-risk pediatric patients directly with providers. In challenging situations where role models are unable to assist younger family members, often due to the role models requiring assistance themselves, this approach becomes critical. Providers serve as trusted role models to counteract poor environmental influences and help overcome emotional or psychological challenges stemming from parenting styles or other factors.

Returning to Dr. Anonymous’s question on engaging teenage patients, it’s important to remember that engagement is about providing support, and the key to effective support strategies is empathy. PreventScripts aims to take away the shame and stigma that surrounds weight and weight-related conversations. Dr. Davis explained, “We’re trying to take out stigma. We’re trying to take away the shame that comes around weight and the weight conversation. So, these are just numbers. We just want to improve your numbers.”

PreventScripts is a game-changer for whole-family care, helping primary care providers achieve generational prevention through an enhanced care strategy. From our EHR integrated clinical decision support to our pediatric assessments, we’re challenging the status-quo on preventive care. Whether you’re a provider, patient, or person interested in disease prevention- It’s never too early for prevention, nor is it too late.