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Guelph family health study says kids develop lifelong health habits by age six

GUELPH - The Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS) is in the early stages of what will be a 20-year study, looking at how interventions made in young families when children are small could have an impact as the children become adults.

The study plans to include 3,000 families. Researchers are calling on all moms and dads in Wellington County to help them out. 

The goal is to reduce health-care costs in Ontario by starting at the source, with parents and their young children, said study co-leader David Ma.

“Childhood is an exciting time for learning all sorts of things, like talking to walking. But what families may not know is that by the age of five or six, children will form eating, exercise, and sleep habits that can last a lifetime,” Ma, a human health and nutritional sciences professor, said. 

 Many people know that healthy eating, exercise, and sleep are important for their health, but many Canadians are not meeting the recommendations, said study co-leader Jess Haines of the family relations and applied nutrition department. 

“We have a U of G team of more than 40 undergraduate and graduate researchers plus seven faculty from nutrition, exercise science, genetics, microbiology, and health sciences departments,” she said. 

The study began as a pilot project in 2014, and results are already being published. 

Data is collected from both children and parents to learn about the whole family’s health. Some measurements such as height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and body composition are done by the lab team, but others like food records and online surveys can be done from home. 

Children are asked to wear two small motion trackers on their wrist and waist so that their physical activity and sleep can be measured for a week. Saliva is collected by spitting into a tube so that genetics can be analyzed. Blood samples are an optional part of the study as well.  

The study has around 90 families involved from across Wellington County so far, and will grow to include 3,000 families over the next 20 years. This will make it one of the biggest studies of its kind in Canada. 

The study is currently recruiting new families, with up to $200 in grocery gift cards to compensate participants for their time. Families in Wellington County with at least one child between 18 months and 6 years of age are eligible to join. All moms and dads are invited to take part in this exciting opportunity to be at the leading edge of health research. 

For more information or to get involved, contact or visit the study website at

August 11, 2017


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