Reducing Childhood Obesity Risk using an Interactive Digital Comic Book

Key Finding and Impact:

Children who read the comic ate more vegetables and drank more water, as well as decreased their sugar intake, from the beginning of the study to the end of the study.

Childhood obesity is a serious public health issue.

Childhood obesity has significant short- and long-term health consequences. Obese children have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in childhood, as well as an increase in morbidity and mortality in adulthood. Often associated with the consumption of sugary beverages and energy dense or low fiber foods, childhood obesity rates in the United States are highest in low-income and minority children. Dr. May May Leung wanted to address this issue using an original and culturally relevant digital health platform.

Designing comic books to reach urban minority youth.

Children live in a media-saturated environment. Innovative interventions are needed to engage children and interest them in health- promoting behaviors.

In this pilot study, Dr. Leung’s multidisciplinary research team at Hunter College-City University of New York developed Intervention INC, an interactive web-based comic that addresses behaviors associated with obesity in children aged 9-12 years. By using the individual, social, and environmental factors that affect the dietary choices of urban minority youth and the feeding practices of their parents, Dr. Leung tailored the six-chapter comic to reflect the unique cultural characteristics of the study population. Recognizing that sedentary behaviors such as using computers, tablets, and smartphones also contribute to childhood obesity rates, Dr. Leung exposed participants to a single chapter of the comic each week and designed each chapter to be read in 15-20 minutes.

Increases in healthy eating behaviors among participants.

The research team found that Intervention INC was highly acceptable among children and their parents, but more importantly, preliminary results show that participants who read the comic demonstrated significantly greater improvements in vegetable, water, and sugar intake; improved attitudes toward vegetable consumption; and showed greater self-efficacy toward fruits, vegetables, and water. Dr. Leung would like to see additional large-scale studies for the comic in real-world settings and adaptation of the tool to other ethnic groups.

Research Details