The 4-Health project is a USDA funded research project and educational outreach program that began in 2009 at Montana State University. Goals of the research and outreach project were as follows:

    • Develop an effective parent-centered obesity prevention educational program that changes the behavior of rural families in order to promote health and well-being while preventing childhood obesity.
    • Implement the 4-Health program over an 8-month period by offering it to parents/guardians of 8-12 year old children.
    • Evaluate participants’ self-reported knowledge, skills, and behaviors to determine effectiveness of the 4-Health program.


As part of the project, curriculum materials for the 4-Health program were developed to assist parents/guardians in making lasting changes that are significant in improving preteen and family health, while respecting the constraints of busy schedules and addressing the unique aspects of a rural lifestyle.

4-Health FAQ

The 4-Health program consists of 10 action packed sessions led by a facilitator and focused on providing important nutrition, physical activity, and body image information, as well as parenting and family communication skills to improve preteen and family health. Program materials consist of a Parent Guide for participants and a Facilitator Guide for Extension Agents or other educators teaching/facilitating the program.

The main goal of the 4-Health program is to change the behaviors of parents/families and children in order to promote health and well-being while reducing the risk of obesity.Learning objectives include:

1. Participants will gain knowledge about healthy diets, physical activity, and improved body image.

2. Participants will enhance their understanding, skills, and potential roles as positive change agents.

3. Participants will learn and practice a series of cognitive-behavioral exercises that encourage them to practice specific skills within the family/home setting.

The program focuses on the following topics:

Food and Nutrition: Choose foods and beverages packed with nutrients, eat meals and snacks regularly, choose food portions appropriate for activity level, increase time when family eats together, practice the principles of normal, healthy eating, and avoid unhealthy weight control practices.

Physical Activity; Create an accessible physical environment that promotes an active lifestyle, reduce sedentary time, promote physical activity through family communication, and take advantage of community sites that provide places for physical activity.

Positive Body Image; Focus on each individual’s positive traits and capability, encourage size and body acceptance of self and others, understand media and environmental influences on the development of body image, teach and model healthy self-esteem, respect, and confidence.

Active Parenting and Family Communication; Practice good communication skills, provide high levels of love, warmth, and boundaries, advocate for preteens, provide opportunities for preteens to grow and develop an identity.

 This program was designed for busy parents/guardians with time constraints. It consists of 10 educational sessions that provide useful and engaging information and activities, while allowing a high level of participant interaction and discussion. Sessions are action packed and combine activities that help participants to understand and deal with real-life situations, as well as provide practical information for preteens and families. Examples of activities include opportunities for cooking new food, exploring invigorating physical activities, and sharing parenting success stories.

What 4-Health program participants said about…

Physical Activity: “I have decided to start dinner 30 minutes later so I can play outside with the kids. We are doing things we all enjoy together and compromising on what we do. If I feel tired, I try to go for a walk or bike ride with the kids.”

Body Image: “I am more aware of the way I listen to/respond to my daughter’s comments about her body. It’s more of a conversation now then it was before this program.”

Active Parenting: “I do things with the children instead of telling them to do physical activity, realizing that I am their most important role model.”

Food and Nutrition: “My family is now very aware of the importance of having a plate full of color. We now use whole wheat pasta and try to eat some sort of fresh vegetable or fruit daily.”

Program evaluation results from 2009-2011 indicated that 73% of 4-Health program participants reported changed behaviors for their family in the areas of improving body image and physical activity, 77% reported changed behavior in parenting and family communication, and 94% of participants reported changing their family’s food and nutrition behaviors as a result of the program.

4-Health Peer-Reviewed Publications:

  1. Benke, C., Bailey, S., Eldridge, G., Lynch, W., Martz, J., & Paul, L. (2013). 4-Health: A programmatic evaluation of a parent-based childhood obesity prevention program.Journal of Youth Development 8(3).
  2. Benke, C., Bailey, S., Martz, J., Paul, L., Lynch, W., & Eldridge, G. (2013). Developing a parent-centered obesity prevention program for 4-H families: Implications for extension family programming.Journal of Extension.
  3. Lynch, W.C., Martz, J., Eldridge, G., Bailey, S., Benke, C., & Paul, L.C. (2012). Childhood obesity prevention in rural settings: background, rationale, and study design of ‘4-Health,’ a parent-only intervention. BMC Public Health 2012, 12:255.
  4. Eldridge, G., Lynch, W.C., Bailey, S., Benke, C., Martz, J. & Paul, L.C. (2011). Parenting Practices that can Prevent or Reduce Childhood Obesity.Journal of Youth Development6(2).

The 4-Health curriculum materials are now available by request

The ten, 90-minute sessions are outlined in both a Parent Guide for Participants, and a Facilitator Guide for educators, which includes learning objectives, Power Point presentations, videos, and further facilitation information. Each session includes healthy living information and interactive activities on the topics of enhancing healthy food and nutrition behavior choices, engaging in a physically active lifestyle, promoting positive body image, and practicing active parenting. Goal setting is included in every session and an end of session evaluation tool is provided. In addition to in-session learning, each session includes a “time for action” section of out-of-session activities for use with preteens and families. Examples of out-of-session activities include healthy cooking assignments for the preteen and parent to complete together, environment assessments that look at the family home in terms of how it promotes or inhibits healthy behaviors, a preteen grocery store scavenger hunt, a nutrition label reading activity, and options for online activities that engage participants in conversation outside of the session meeting time. 

Request your electronic copy of the 4Health Parent and/or Facilitor Guides by calling 406-994-6969 or submitting this short form:

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