The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Weight Status, Health Behaviors and Home Environment of Foster Children and Their Caregivers

Friday, January 18, 2013: 3:30 PM
Nautilus 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Serena Parks, BS, PhD student, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Roanoke, VA
Fabio Almeida, PhD, Assistant Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Roanoke, VA
Paul Estabrooks, PhD, Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Roanoke, VA
Background: Ecological models of childhood obesity suggest that the home environment plays a significant role in supporting healthful or unhealthful eating and physical activity or sedentary behavior. Recent research has documented that childhood obesity is higher in foster children when compared to national averages.  However, the relationship between nutrition, physical activity, weight status of foster children and the foster home environment is unclear. The purpose of this study is to assess the current eating and physical activity habits and weight status of foster children and their care providers and to determine the relationship with the home environment.

Methods: Data were collected from 116 foster children between the ages of 8 and 20 and 71 foster parents in Virginia.  Data collected from foster children and parents included age, objective height and weight, race, income, fruit and vegetable intake, sugar-sweetened beverage intake, physical activity engagement, media and related behaviors. Foster parents also completed a validated home environment survey consisting of 18 scales that covered the physical and social environment of the foster homes. CDC growth charts were used to determine child’s BMI percentile. Bivariate correlations (Pearson’s Correlations r) determining the relationship between child and parent behavior as well as child behaviors and home environment domains were conducted.  Simple regression analyses determined the predictability of variables demonstrating significant correlations.

Results:  Approximately 38% of foster youth were overweight or were obese. In terms of behaviors, the overwhelming majority of youth did not meet fruit and vegetable recommendations (97%), with children eating an average of 2.48 fruits and vegetables per day, and consuming 419.22 kcals of sugar-sweetened beverages. On a scale of 1 to 5, children had an average PAQ score of 2.46, suggesting that they engage in low levels of physical activity. In comparison to a fourth grade sample of Virginia students, foster children watched more television (46% watching more than 3 hours) and play more video games (28.3% play more than 3 hours) on an average school day. Foster parents consumed less kcals of sugar-sweetened beverages (246.68 kcals) than national averages and met the recommendations for daily intake of fruits and vegetables.  Unlike previous studies in non-foster care settings, foster parent behavior and the foster home environment were only associated with small relationships with eating, activity, and weight status of the foster children.

Conclusions: Foster children are at risk for becoming overweight or obese. This risk coupled with poor eating and physical activity habits also places them at risk for cardiovascular diseases (e.g. diabetes, hypertension).  In order to prevent this vulnerable population from encountering additional burdens, there is a need for culturally relevant interventions. Our data suggests a significant but weak relationship between the behaviors of foster children, their caregivers, and their home environment. Social service agencies should evaluate potential policy and programmatic changes necessary to prevent additional health burdens among this population.