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Parenting programs lead to healthier behaviors

Science Highlight

July 25, 2019

A study conducted among 517 youth in the rural areas of the southeastern United States demonstrates the effectiveness of a parenting enhancement program in both preventing drug use and obesity, two potentially life-threatening conditions for which people living in disadvantaged communities are at an elevated risk.

Father and son sitting on a bench talking©iStock/digitalskillet

Previous research identified protective caregiving practices in rural African American families that promoted healthy social and emotional development. These practices, which involve positive parent-child relationships, routinized and predictable home environments, consistent discipline, and non-harsh parenting practices, nurtured the development of self-regulation and achievement goals, and inhibited drug use and other risk behaviors within these communities. In a new study, parents and their 11-year-old children were assigned randomly to a control program or to the Strong African American Families (SAAF) prevention program, which employed these practices. SAAF families participated in separate parent, youth, and family skills-building curriculums and had the opportunity to practice the techniques they were learning over a series of training sessions. Data looking at neighborhood socioeconomic status and supportive parenting were collected when the youth were 11 and 16 years of age. When the youth were aged 19-21 and 25, drug use and Body Mass Index (BMI) were measured.

Researchers found that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood was associated with drug use among young men in the control group, but not in the SAAF group. In young women, BMI was higher in the control group than in the group assigned to the SAAF program. The findings suggest the importance of parenting enhancement programs as a tool for healthier outcomes in youth. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as well as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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