The Importance of Emphasizing Healthy Habits for All Children

Aug 20, 2014, 11:00 AM

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your award from the Western Institute of Nursing! The award honors new nurse researchers. What does it mean for you and for your career?

Carolyn Montoya: In addition to being quite an honor, receiving the Carol Lindeman Award for new researchers from the Western Institute of Nursing motivates me to continue to pursue my research. I am sure people can relate to the fact that being in the student mode is so very intense that once you finish you need some recovery time. Then you start wanting to use the research skills you worked so hard to obtain, and this award has helped to re-energize my commitment to research.

HCB: The award recognizes your study on children’s self-perception of weight. Please tell us what you found.

Montoya: I was very interested to see if there was a difference between how Hispanic children viewed their self-perception in regard to weight compared with white children. Seventy percent of my study population was Hispanic, and my overall response rate was 42 percent. I found that Hispanic children, ages 8 to 11, are not better or worse than white children in their ability to accurately perceive their weight status. Most surprising, and a bit concerning, was the fact that one-third of the sample expressed a desire to be underweight.

HCB: Why is it important to explore how children perceive their own weight? How is a child’s self-perception of weight linked to his or her overall health?

Montoya: This study demonstrates that weight prevention and intervention programs should emphasize healthy life styles for all children, given the fact that overweight/obese children do not perceive themselves to be in these categories. It does not make any sense to simply target overweight/obese children, but rather to emphasize healthy habits for all children.

HCB: Did you find gender or other demographic differences in how children perceive their weight?

Montoya: Gender, age and grade level did not prove to significantly impact the ability of these children to accurately perceive their weight status.

HCB: What are your next steps in this area of research?

Montoya: Some of the limitations of my study included the fact that I did not determine acculturation of the children and that I only used one measure, The Children’s Body Image Scale©, developed by Truby and Paxton (2002), to evaluate children’s self-perception. I would like to repeat this study using a larger sample size; assess acculturation of the children; include a qualitative component; and further explore the issue of children preferring to be underweight.

HCB: You got your professional start as a National Health Service Corps scholar in Brownsville, Texas. What kind of work did you do there and what did you learn?

Montoya: The National Health Service Corps provided me with the opportunity to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner in a very underserved area. It was an amazing experience, as there were so many children to be seen at this clinic. So much so, that we had to have children 8 years and older seen by the internists so that the pediatricians and the pediatric nurse practitioners could be available to see babies and the young children. I learned a lot about infectious diseases; the challenges of trying to find services for undocumented children; and the critical role that teaching plays in preventing and treating illness.

HCB: You later pivoted toward academia, and earned your PhD in nursing and health policy last year through RWJF’s Nursing and Health Policy Collaborative at the University of New Mexico College of Nursing. Why did you decide to pursue your doctorate, and why did you decide to focus on health policy?

Montoya: Having been in academia for many years, I knew that if I wanted to advance my academic career I would need a doctoral degree. Although I had, for many years, considered obtaining a doctoral degree, the timing never seemed right, or I didn’t find the right program. The RWJF Nursing and Health Policy Collaborative at the University of New Mexico was exactly the right fit for me. I have been actively involved in policy issues since I returned to my home state after completing my National Health Service obligation. I worked for the successful passage of the bill that allowed nurse practitioners to have independent practice and full prescriptive authority in our state in 1993 and I then went on to work on policy issues as president of the American College of Nurse Practitioners (now joined with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners) and then as president of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

HCB: How did this experience prepare you for your future goals in academic nursing?

Montoya: As a native New Mexican, I am keenly aware of the fact that our state is among the worst in the nation regarding health outcomes, particularly among children. I continue to believe that nurse practitioners, in collaboration with other health care professionals, are key to improving health outcomes for New Mexicans. In my current role, I am implementing a state initiative to increase the number of nurse midwives, and family and pediatric nurse practitioner students in order to help us meet our mission of improving the health of the people of our state.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.