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NIH-funded studies aim to prevent, treat childhood obesity

The National Institutes of Health is launching two major research efforts, totaling $72.5 million, to examine ways to curtail the nation's childhood obesity epidemic. One will study long-term approaches to prevent or treat childhood obesity, and the other will examine community efforts to reduce childhood obesity rates.

"Childhood obesity is a major public health concern. If we don't curb this widespread problem, our country will see a substantial increase in cardiovascular disease and other health issues in the years ahead," said Susan B. Shurin, M.D., acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the lead sponsor for both programs. "Childhood is the optimal time to encourage healthy habits that kids can practice the rest of their lives."

The NIH's $49.5 million Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Research (COPTR) program is among the first long-term obesity prevention and treatment research studies in children. Two obesity prevention and two obesity treatment randomized clinical trials will be conducted over seven years. COPTR is sponsored by the NHLBI, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR). COPTR will test methods for preventing excessive weight gain in non-overweight and moderately overweight youth, and methods for reducing weight in obese and severely obese youth. Investigators will collaborate with local, state, and national organizations on these efforts.

The two obesity prevention trials will develop and test approaches that target home, community, and primary care settings for preschool children living in low income and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The two obesity treatment trials will examine obesity therapies on overweight and obese children 7 to 14 years old in school and home settings in collaboration with local youth organizations.

COPTR differs from previous childhood obesity research programs as the new studies will test long-term intervention approaches and target multiple levels of influence community youth organizations, schools, primary care providers, home, and families and do not focus solely on individuals' behaviors.

COPTR studies will be conducted at: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville (Principal Investigator: Shari L. Barkin, M.D., MSHS)

Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (Principal Investigator: Leona Cuttler, M.D.)

Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif. (Principal Investigator: Thomas N. Robinson, M.D., M.P.H.)

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Principal Investigator: Simone French, Ph.D.)

The coordinating center for the program is University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Principal Investigator: June Stevens, Ph.D.)

Another large research study will evaluate existing community efforts to reduce local childhood obesity rates. The NIH has awarded a five-year, $23 million contract to Battelle Memorial Institute (Principal Investigator: Howard Fishbein, MPH., Ph.D.) in Columbus, Ohio, to examine community programs and policies in 300 demographically diverse communities across the nation. The community efforts to be evaluated are those designed to decrease local childhood obesity rates in areas where childhood obesity rates are highest. Investigators will examine how effective such efforts are in changing behaviors and reducing body weight.

"Over the past several years, communities across the United States have been implementing programs and policies to encourage healthier eating, increase opportunities for physical activity, and other steps to reverse increasing rates of childhood obesity," noted Denise Simons-Morton, Ph.D., director of the NHLBI's Division for the Application of Research Discoveries. "This study will evaluate such community programs to determine which of them or their components are the most promising approaches for improving children's obesity-related health behaviors and weight."

The NHLBI is the lead sponsor of the community evaluation study, which also receives support from the NIH's NICHD, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and OBSSR.

The project is also part of a robust set of activities to address childhood obesity in the United States conducted with the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR). Members of the NCCOR are the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Obesity rates have increased four-fold among children in the past 40 years. Today, 17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are obese. Factors behind this increase are believed to include increased consumption of high-calorie food and drinks and less physical activity during and after school. Overweight and obese children are at higher risk of chronic diseases during childhood and adulthood, including heart disease, stroke, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and several cancers. Cardiovascular conditions associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, are increasingly being diagnosed during childhood, as is type 2 diabetes.


Contact: NHLBI Office of Communications
NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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