Researchers at the University of Guelph are looking for 100 young families to participate in a 20-year-long study that will assess the impact family dynamics have, over time, on a child's weight.

The Guelph Family Health Study began last year as a pilot study involving 44 families with children between the ages of 18 months and five years. 

As a child, I was a victim of bullying and tormenting due to my weight. I didn't want my daughter to have to go through that. - Tara Woodburn, health study participant

Half of the families were visited by a health educator, who helped the caregivers come up with a list of goals for healthy living. The other families acted as a control group and did not receive a visit.

"It was wonderful," said Tara Woodburn, who participated in the pilot study with her three-year-old daughter and received two visits from a health educator. 

"Having a three year old, there's a lot of toys and mess that comes with it. So, when she came in the house, I was like, oh, please, turn a blind eye. And she was totally understanding."

Woodburn said it was her daughter's well-being that encouraged her to take part in the study.

"As a child, I was a victim of bullying and tormenting due to my weight," she said. "I didn't want my daughter to have to go through that."

Personalized intervention

With the help of her health educator, Woodburn came up with three main goals for her and her daughter: to eat meals at the table, to reduce the time spent in front of the television, and to go skating together.

"At the beginning, we were doing wonderful and then life happened." she said. "My dad passed away very suddenly at the end of May, and everything kind of went out the window for me."

"But, I think that's part of the study as well. That is real life. These things are going to happen and how do you cope and where do you go from there."

For the next 19 years, Woodburn and her daughter will go for annual check-ups at the health study's office, where staff will measure their weight, body mass, and waste circumference, amongst other things. 

The researchers would like to expand the study in 2016 and are actively recruiting new participants. Interested families who live in the Guelph area are encouraged to contact the study by visiting its website.