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University of Michigan awarded $4.9 million to help reduce obesity in preschool children

ANN ARBOR, Mich. The USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $4.9 million to the University of Michigan to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity among Head Start preschoolers in Michigan.

The preschool years are a critical time for developing eating behaviors. Among 4-year-olds in the United States, nearly 1 in 5 is obese, and low-income children are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be overweight than middle- or upper-income children.

"Obesity is perhaps the most pressing nutritional problem in America, with childhood and adolescent obesity rates tripling in the past 30 years," says NIFA director Roger Beachy, Ph.D., who made the award announcement Monday at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

"A goal for NIFA is to support research and develop methods, built on sound science, that will reverse the rising trend of obesity and help children and their families adopt healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime."

Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., a behavioral pediatrician at Mott Children's Hospital, will lead a research team of faculty from the U-M School of Public Health, the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development, and Michigan State University.

With the NIFA grant, Lumeng and her team will develop an obesity intervention program based on the premise that enhancing a child's ability to control certain emotions and behaviors is a key component of effective obesity prevention.

The ability to inhibit an impulse and calm oneself in the face of stress are two examples of self-regulatory abilities.

"These abilities may be relevant to obesity prevention because children who are better able to cope with stress may be less likely to eat impulsively or in response to stress," says Lumeng, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Child Behavioral Health, and assistant research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

Researchers includes nutrition and child health experts Karen E. Peterson, D. Sc., U-M professor of environmental health sciences, director of the Human Nutrition Program at the U-M School of Public Health, and co-director of the Michigan Nutrition and Obesity Research Center; Alison Miller, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the U-M School of Public Health and assistant research professor at the Center for Human Growth; and Holly Brophy-Herb, Ph.D., and Mildred Horodynski, Ph.D., of Michigan State.

The trial will evaluate the response of 600 Head Start children and their families to the Preschool Obesity Prevention Series (POPS), a curriculum that focuses on obesity-related health behaviors.

Additionally, the team will evaluate the response to the POPS intervention combined with the Incredible Years Series (IYS), an evidence-based program designed to improve preschoolers' emotional and behavioral self-regulation.

The team proposes that combining intervention strategies of POPS and IYS will lead to the greatest improvements in obesity-related health behaviors.

Cooperative Extension and Head Start educators who collaborate in the project will receive training and educational curricula and assist in determining the effectiveness of the program. If successful, the results will be widely disseminated to teachers around the country.

The Michigan Head Start programs will include Jackson Community Action Agency, Michigan Family Resources, Walker, Mich., and EightCAP, headquartered in Greenville, Mich., north of Grand Rapids, Mich.

The grant is awarded through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI supports childhood obesity prevention single-function research, education and extension projects; multi-function integrated research, education and extension projects; and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) grants.

The long-term outcome for this program is to reduce the prevalence of overweight and obese children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years.


Contact: Shantell M. Kirkendoll
University of Michigan Health System

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