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New funding will help researchers learn how preschoolers move, battle early child obesity

URBANA University of Illinois researchers have received funding from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for a series of workshops that will help researchers learn about physical activity in preschool-aged children.

"Nearly one in seven low-income children is overweight or obese by age six," said Barbara Fiese, director of the U of I's Family Resiliency Center and a principal investigator for its STRONG Kids project (STRONG is an acronym for Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group).

"One of the things we're learning from STRONG Kids is that we really don't have the tools to understand physical activity in young children," she added. "Preschoolers tend to have bursts of activity followed by more sedentary periods. That's very different from kids in elementary school who have moved into the world of more organized activities, sports, and games."

Fiese said that the Centers for Disease Control recommend that preschoolers get an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. She thinks it's unlikely that most young children are getting that much exercise.

"Because we're seeing obesity at such early ages, we want to start addressing children's poor eating habits and lack of physical activity when they're quite young," Fiese said.

The team of scientists involved in the workshops will come from both the Urbana and Chicago campuses and will cut across such disciplines as computer engineering, kinesiology, parks and recreation, human development, public health, and nutritional sciences, she said.

"We want to bring in top-notch experts in these fields so they can develop a tool that can be used in young children's natural environments -- for example, child care settings, homes, and parks. If you watch preschool children in any of these settings, you'll see a lot of random movement," she said.

Before scientists can develop interventions that will be useful in encouraging preschoolers to be more active, they have to be able to measure their activity, she said.

She noted that any device attached to a preschooler to measure movement will have to be sturdy enough to survive dropping it, stepping on it, or an unexpected dip in the bathtub or toilet.

Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

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