Research from Rutledge, team featured in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Dr. Julie Rutledge, Director of Louisiana Tech’s Education and Research in Children’s Health (ENRICH) Center, is part of a team whose research suggests that the “pester power” of children being educated to make wise eating choices may contribute to improvements in their family’s food environment.

Julie RutledgeThe research is the featured article in the latest publication of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior and can be found here. The research team is a partnership between Tech and the University of Arkansas for Medical Services (UAMS).

The study’s purpose was to discover if children’s pester power was related to a classroom-based nutrition program called Together, We Inspire Smart Eating (WISE), and if the education influenced, through the child’s at-home actions, the family’s dietary habits and parental food purchases and practices.

The study found that potential is high for children’s influence on food consumption and habits at home.

“This study really highlights how much of a valuable resource the school setting is for health interventions that target children,” Rutledge said. “Schools, teachers, and administrators play a key role related to children’s health at school, and this study shows that there is a spillover effect at home.”

“The more pester power that parents were exposed to from their children, the greater we saw changes in the desired direction for intake of fruits and vegetables and also supportive parenting practices,” said lead study author Dr. Taren Swindle of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at UAMS. “It means that children’s influence on their homes may be an underdeveloped potential target for future interventions.”

The pester power of children is well documented in marketing and advertising research and is increasingly being considered in regard to the nutritional habits of children. Future studies can provide insight into which components of educational programs specifically predict successful pester power.

“I like to think of this as hypothesis-generating work,” Swindle said. “It suggests a really promising area for future exploration.”

“We could not have done this work without the wonderful partnerships we have with our preschools and Head Start Centers and without the support of our funding agencies, including federal funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the long-term support, for us in Louisiana, of the Lincoln Health Foundation,” Rutledge said. “Through this program, the staff at the ENRICH Center – from undergraduate research assistants to graduate assistants to degreed research associates – have had the opportunity to work hands-on in field work with our school partners and have unique educational experiences that developed their research skills at the ENRICH Center lab. We hope, through private support and grant-funding, to be able to continue this work into the future.”