Shaping the future of cardiovascular health with grandparents

Cardiology Review® Online, October 2006, Volume 23, Issue 10

Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics

The Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc (ABC) believes that grandparents can and should have a major positive impact in the lives of children. However, 32% of all Americans died prematurely of heart disease before the age of 75 in 2002, according to the American Heart Association, —2006 Update. Even more staggering is the short life expectancy for African Americans, with 31.5% dying before age 65. These premature deaths deny children the opportunity to be mentored, coached, and counseled by some of society’s wisest and most experienced members.

This concern caused the ABC to further investigate the role that grandparents play in influencing the decisions and behaviors of their grandchildren. In a qualitative study among African-American grandparents with grandchildren ages 5 to 13 in the metro-Atlanta area, a total of 52 respondents participated. The grandparent sample was broken down into 3 groups determined by the age of the grandchildren. The primary objective of the study was to explore whether or not grandparents appear to influence the dietary, physical activity, and academic decisions/behaviors of their grandchildren.

Study Findings

When surveying respondents about relationships with their own grandparents, a majority of respondents in all groups agreed they enjoyed close relationships with at least 1 of their grandparents. Several respondents had a grandmother living in their homes when they were growing up, and some were raised by their grandmothers. Among respondents whose grandparents did not live in their homes, several were picked up from school by a grandparent who watched after them until a parent came home from work.

Grandparents described a variety of roles that they fill in their grandchildren’s lives. A common theme among all 3 groups, however, was that grandparents should provide love, support, and guidance. When presented with a list of 5 grandparent functions, virtually all agreed on the importance of these roles: spiritual/emotional guide or listener; support with schoolwork; sharing family history; role model/sharer of skills; and companion/ playmate. However, there was some discussion about grandparents’ ability to provide support with schoolwork and limits on the extent to which they should be considered playmates for their grandchildren.

Respondents voiced their influence over their grandchildren’s dietary behavior, including:

• Helping them choose healthy foods and bringing healthy food home and/or not having junk food in their homes

• Cooking healthy meals and having their grandchildren cook with them

• Not eating out too often

• Role modeling in addition to instruction

To encourage exercise, the respondent grandparents involved their grandchildren in a variety of activities that included, but was not limited to:

• Teaching them to roller skate, swim, and jump rope

• Walking many places instead of driving

• Bike riding together

• Enrolling them in organized sports

Almost all agreed that in their younger days, they did not look forward to becoming grandparents. A few indicated that they became grandparents at a much earlier age than they had hoped or anticipated, and 1 respondent admitted that she had been afraid of becoming a grandmother because grandparents are associated with old age. However, all appeared to agree that they were proud to have become grandparents.