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How Involving Families Improves Public Health Programs

Kirsten Novilla’s recent research highlights the important role of families in public health.

Healthy individuals come from families that make decisions, plan, and do healthy activities together. They act as a team, working to achieve health goals. They are a valuable resource to public health programs, who have the opportunity to work with families and involve them throughout the planning process.

Kirsten Novilla, a senior studying health science at BYU, is working to spread awareness of how programs and interventions can incorporate families.

“Families are the basic unit of health, where we learn health habits from our parents, even behavioral things like exercise and eating healthy,” said Novilla. It’s not only what we learn from our families, but also how we tackle health challenges as families that makes a difference. When an entire family is involved in making health decisions, they see progress.

Using the example of childhood obesity, Novilla said, “The more that the parents are involved, the more likely the kids are to comply with eating vegetables.” The key is parents leading by example.

To discover how well current public health programs involve families, Novilla and Dr. Ali Crandall with The Brain and Family Research Team adapted a checklist from Professor Karen Bogenschneider at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After evaluating local public health programs, Novilla described their findings: “Current health programs do involve the family, but it’s more surface level. Families aren’t completely involved in the program planning process, which is important.” To read more about the details of this project, follow this link to the peer reviewed article “The Public Health Family Impact Checklist: A Tool to Help Practitioners Think Family”. 

Novilla highlighted WIC, an organization that provides federal grants for low-income pregnant women and women with infants and children, as a program that successfully involves families. They started integrating fathers into their programming as they realized the importance of looking at public health from a family perspective.

“Medical practice focuses on what can be done on the individual level to improve health, while public health focuses at the population level. Families can serve as a bridge between the two because they influence both individual and population health.” Novilla said. ‘That is why I’m so eager to see public health programming be more intentional about incorporating the family and making programs more family-centered.”

Families can move toward a healthier future as public health education and programs take advantage of this new research.