July 18, 2019 | 81° F

Researchers link obesity to lifestyle

Two University researchers are undertaking a study to determine how to prevent childhood obesity by monitoring suggested lifestyle changes in 900 households.

Subjects will receive at-home visitations or online material teaching families how to make healthier food, she said. The 18-month study will feature 600 families in New Jersey and 300 families in Arizona.

Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, said previous research virtually ignores this factor of childhood obesity. 

“One of the areas that has not received very much attention in the past is the home environment,” said Byrd-Bredbenner, an Extension Specialist in the Department of Nutritional Science. “We know that kids learn a lot by observing their parents and the home provides them with opportunities.”

She said the household determines the quality of food, sleep and exercise among children — all key factors in obesity.

Households participating in the study will receive materials that will educate them on dietary health and suggest changes in diet and physical activity for at-risk children, Byrd-Bredbenner said. Her research will monitor the effectiveness of these tools.

“We’re hypothesizing that if parents can make these simple, inexpensive changes in their household environments, there’s much less of a chance excess amounts of weight,” she said.

The study will focus on families who have obese or at-risk children because of lower socioeconomic status, membership of certain ethnic groups or a history of gestational diabetes, Byrd-Bredbenner said.

Over the course of the study, subjects will periodically take questionnaires and will have their body mass index measured along with other statistics, she said.

“As families move through this process, they’re going to find ways to make their home healthier,” Byrd-Bredbenner said. “It will help [their children] grow up at a healthy weight.”

She said throughout the next few months she will monitor the participant’s weight and health to measure the efficiency of online care in obesity.

“In the long run, we’re looking at kids at a healthier weight who have reduced risk of all the diseases that go along with obesity,” she said.

Marion Groetch, a senior dietician at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, said the study might have significant effects because it focuses on the parents’ role in their child’s nutrition.

“This study addresses the parents’ responsibility in the feeding relationship,” she said. “The parent is responsible for what foods are purchased, brought into the home, cooked and served.”

Groetch said she is specifically interested in how parents feed their children, which would discuss an important aspect of a child’s upbringing. 

“[Parents] are responsible for what foods are served,” she said. “Serving family meals has been shown in previous research to have numerous positive effects.”

Despite childhood obesity’s presence throughout the country, families in New Jersey were chosen because of the state’s population of obese preschoolers, the second highest percentage in the nation, Byrd-Bredbenner said.

She said Arizona also recently experienced the greatest rate of increase in preschool obesity rates.

Steven Shikhel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he thinks this study is a positive one and approaches childhood obesity in the right manner.

“I think educating the parents is the best way to go, any greater education is good education,” he said. “That is the only way to go about fixing it, not by making laws or anything like that. If people are educated, they will drive their children’s health.”

By Andrew Smith

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