The effect of using animal models on children's knowledge, attitude, and practice of health behaviors

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Allard, Stephanie Michele
Maple, Terry L.
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Obesity has been described as a global health crisis due to the rapid increases seen worldwide (Whitlock et al., 2005; Harris et al., 2009; Yetter, 2009). The consequences of obesity are far-reaching and include the physiological and psychological implications for obese individuals, as well as the financial impact it has on both the individual and national health care. Children, especially those of minority ethnic background and lower socioeconomic status, are at increased risk for developing obesity (Yetter, 2009; Veldhuis et al., 2009). Intervention programs targeting underlying causes of childhood obesity have been developed, but little consistent success has been achieved (Summerbell et al., 2005; Sherry, 2005). One factor that could be influencing the lack of success is the stigmatization that can be felt by children taking part in intervention programs. Furthermore, many programs have targeted behavior change without determining underlying attitudes about behaviors. It is critical that effective obesity intervention programs be developed for children at high risk of developing obesity. This study used indirect messaging to address health issues related to overweight and obesity in children. An education program about animal health was presented to two groups of eight and nine year old children. The program included a combination of classroom instruction and practical application both in the classroom and at the Palm Beach Zoo with real animals. The children's attitude, knowledge, and practice of healthy behavior was measured before and after exposure to the program to evaluate its effect. It was hypothesized that learning about what being healthy entails for animals will have positive implications for the children's own health. It was found that children who participated in this study were already knowledgeable about healthy behaviors and also had overall positive attitudes towards health. However, they did not have high levels of health behavior practices. Participation in the program did not significantly improve the knowledge, attitudes, or practice of health behavior in the children. Zoos should consider designing program that specifically target increasing the practice of health behaviors in children.
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