Grandparents as champions of health promotion | SBM

Marissa Kobayashi, MHS; Doctoral Candidate, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Danielle M. Wischenka, Ph.D.; Behavioral Medicine Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow, VA Palo Alto Healthcare System

Societal and economic changes have contributed to both the increase in the number of multigenerational households1 and an increasing reliance on grandparents to care for children. Grandparents have a variety of responsibilities within their family, including helping with homework, transportation, and other caregiving duties. Grandparents also say they appreciate their role in passing on wisdom, heritage and morality.2

The involvement of grandparents in daily family life has generally been shown to be beneficial for the well-being and social-emotional health of grandchildren;3.4 however, research also indicates that grandparent involvement can negatively impact grandchildren’s weight, diet, and physical activity.5.6 Interestingly, caring grandparents are in a unique position to promote healthy eating and exercise behaviors in their grandchildren.

This article features several “champion tips” and fun activities to help parents and grandparents work together to promote nutritious eating and good health.

Food environment

Champion Tip #1: Help your grandkids eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods from different

food groups in recommended amounts. For more information on which nutrient dense foods to choose, visit:

Fun activity: Ask your grandchildren to help you prepare delicious meals in the kitchen. Take this opportunity to tell them about the adventure and encourage them to try new healthy foods. For age-appropriate ideas for involving kids in the kitchen, visit:

Champion Tip #2: Limit your grandchildren’s intake of added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium.

Fun Activity: Have your grandkids play a “blindfold taste test.” See if they can detect different tastes such as sweet, sour, and bitter. Ask them to rate their favorites. It’s a great way to introduce them to new foods that are low in sugar, fat and sodium!

Champion Tip #3: Find healthier alternatives by choosing foods and beverages that are nutrient dense and low in refined sugars, starches, trans fats and sodium. Replace club soda with fruit-infused water or substitute whole-wheat pasta instead of white pasta.

Fun Activity: Eat the Rainbow! Help your grandkids get excited about tasting all the colors of the rainbow by baking colorful foods together. Mix up a healthy smoothie that includes colorful fruits and vegetables (eg blueberries, bananas, strawberries, spinach) or whip up a vibrant salad.

For tips on how to eat healthy on a budget or access food resources, visit:

Like grandparent, like grandson

Champion Tip #1: Be a role model for making healthy choices by choosing nutrient-dense foods for you and your grandchildren to consume.

Fun Activity: Teach grandkids about nutrition by taking them grocery shopping. Do a scavenger hunt around the store, or see if they spot the labels with the least sodium, sugar, etc. Remember: your grandchildren look up to you and notice what you eat! Try to make healthy choices when possible.

Champion Tip #2: Avoid screens during meals and eat together. TV and other screens during meals can cause distraction and mindless eating, which increases calorie intake and makes you hungry. For WHO guidelines on screen time, visit: to-sit-less-and-play more11

Fun Activity: Turn off the TV and talk to your curious grandkids. You can share stories about your heritage, your culture or your ancestors. Alternatively, you can tell them a story that gives pearls of wisdom.

Champion Tip #3: Avoid using “junk food” as a reward.

Fun Activity: Find different ways to congratulate and encourage your grandchildren to adopt positive behaviors, such as earning tokens to exchange for a reward. For every color of the rainbow they eat, they can earn a token, and 15 tokens can be redeemed for an extra half hour of game time or screen time.

Movement matters!

Champion Tip #1: Use technology to help the whole family move! Screen time can be used to shake things up and increase physical activity.

Fun Activity: Use smartphones to download apps to get kids moving (e.g. IronKids,FitnessKids), or stream videos of their favorite songs. Organize a dance competition with your grandson. See who can score the most points by performing the best dance moves! For age-specific physical activity guidelines, visit:

Champion Tip #2: Spend quality time with your grandkids while getting active together.

Fun Activity: Teach your grandkids a physical activity that you enjoy or enjoy at their age, such as dancing or hiking. You can take the opportunity to tell them stories about your childhood and create memories that they will share with their grandchildren in the future!

Whatever advice you decide to adopt as a family, we suggest you discuss it with your children first. Grandparents and parents need to set health rules and decide which strategies work best for their family.

Sharing a special bond with grandchildren, grandparents are uniquely positioned to serve as champions in promoting health and preventing childhood obesity.

The references

  1. Livingston, G. (2013). At the grandmother’s, we stay: One in ten children lives with a grandparent. Pew Research Center.
  2. David, Patty and Brittne Nelson-Kakulla, Ph.D. 2018 National Survey of Today’s Grandparents: General Population Report. Washington, DC: AARP Research, April 2019.
  3. Griggs, J., Tan, JP, Buchanan, A., Attar-Schwartz, S. and Flouri, E. (2010). “They have always been there for me”: involvement of grandparents and well-being of the child. Children & Society, 24(3), 200-214.
  4. Buchanan, A., & Rotkirch, A. (2018). 21st Century Grandparents: Global Perspectives on Changing Roles and Consequences.
  5. Chambers, SA, Rowa-Dewar, N., Radley, A. & Dobbie, F. (2017). A systematic review of the influence of grandparents on cancer risk factors in grandchildren. Plos one, 12(11), e0185420.
  6. Young, KG, Duncanson, K. & Burrows, T. (2018). Influence of grandparents on the food intake of their grandchildren aged 2 to 12: a systematic review. Nutrition & dietetics, 75(3), 291-306.
  7. Childhood Nutrition Facts | Healthy Schools | CDC. (2017). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from
  8. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). (nd). Advice to parents: Put the children in the kitchen. Retrieved August 13, 2019, from
  9. Healthy food at low cost. (2017, April 18). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from
  10. Need help? Find food. (nd). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from
  11. To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more. (2019, April 25). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from – Following
  12. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (nd). Retrieved August 13, 2019, from

More articles

SBM: Insomnia in the Elderly: Tips for Mastering Sleep as We Age

Insomnia in the Elderly: Tips for Managing Sleep as You Age

How we sleep and how we can sleep better changes with age. Check out these tips for seniors with trouble sleeping or insomnia.

SBM: Physical activity for older people: it's never too late to improve your health

Physical activity for seniors: it’s never too late to improve your health

Despite common misconceptions, older adults can benefit from engaging in physical activity.

SBM: Four healthy habits for older adults to reduce cognitive decline and prevent dementia

Four healthy habits for older adults to reduce cognitive decline and prevent dementia

Cognitive decline and dementia can affect anyone’s quality of life. This decline can be prevented by improving certain lifestyle behaviors.

« Back to Healthy Living

Comments are closed.