Spreading a Healthy Message

While they might not be able to fly or leap tall buildings, two Latina mothers are playing the heroes in a new comic book designed to encourage kids to make healthier choices.

cover image of the comic book, Small Changes, Big Results

With the comic entitled Small Changes Big Results, researchers at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University blend the fun of comic book-style storytelling with advice on healthy living.

The cartoon moms at the story's center share the same concerns about childhood obesity as their real-life counterparts in Latino farm working families, according to Jill Kilanowski, assistant professor at the nursing school.

Kilanowski has been studying children from migrant camps for three years as part of a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study at the nursing school. Some 41 percent of these children are overweight or obese—more than double the national average for children between the ages of 2 and 19, according to the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination survey. As part of her work, Kilanowski set out to find a way to promote healthier lifestyle choices among migrant children.

Mothers—who traditionally cook the meals in Latino families—can play a key role in making positive, healthy changes, and Kilanowski relied heavily on their input during her research. She met with mothers from migrant families working on farms, bringing with her current health education literature from pamphlets to DVDs. But for families on the move with limited access to computers, standard materials like DVDs aren't much help.

The mothers told Kilanowski that reading materials with vibrant imagery and equally colorful storytelling would be better teaching tools for their small children. "They also wanted something they could carry in their purses and read to children while waiting at health clinics or other places," she says.

The mothers also told Kilanowski how popular comic books are in Mexico—and those conversations provided the foundation for the bilingual Small Changes Big Results, produced by Kilanowski and a team of artists from the Columbus College of Art and Design.

The storyline follows a conversation between two mothers about how to institute healthy changes with guidance from a migrant clinic nurse practitioner. It offers tips about exercising and making small diet modifications like switching from the popular lardo (animal fat) to healthier cooking oils, eating more vegetables and whole grains, not skipping breakfast and eating more meals as a family.

"The comic is about making changes for the whole family," Kilanoswki says.