The waistlines of children continue to grow, along with the concern about the problem. Two University of Cincinnati researchers are recruiting a school, parents and children in fighting obesity as they test a new prevention program in Meade County, Ky. After spending spring conducting focus groups with children and their parents, the 12-week program, geared toward 129 fifth-graders, will be launched at an elementary school in Brandenburg, Ky., when school begins this fall.
The obesity intervention program is the creation of Megan Canavera, a registered dietician and master’s degree candidate in the program of health promotion and education, UC College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, and her advisor, Manoj Sharma, associate professor of health promotion and education.
The UC researchers are coordinating with the Brandenburg school’s physical education teacher as they test the intervention program developed around four specific components:
- Regular physical activity
- Enforcing healthy eating habits, such as limiting portion size, cutting soft drink consumption and adding fruits and vegetables to the children’s diet
- Cutting back on time watching TV
- Improving parent-child communication to reinforce behaviors that cut back on obesity
Principal Investigator Canavera, a 24-year-old native of Brandenburg, Ky., says she chose Meade County because of its diversity, resulting from families based around the U.S. Army Armor Center in Ft. Knox, Ky.
“Typically, urban areas are the focus of this kind of programming,” Sharma says, “but we chose this area because rural areas do not have a lot of health education programs and the need there is much greater.”
The focus group sessions got underway in May, just a month after the Journal of the American Medical Association reported growing statistics on children and obesity based on 2003-2004 data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. The report found that more than 17 percent of American children and adolescents – over 12-and-a-half-million – are overweight. The report also found that the prevalence of overweight girls rose from 13.8 percent in 1999 to 16 percent in 2004 and among boys, that increase was more than four percent, from 14 percent in 1999 to 18.2 percent in 2004.
“Part of the problem is that children are becoming more sedentary – they’re doing less and less physical activity and spending more and more time in front of the television and their computers,” Sharma says. “A very high percentage of people do not eat five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables. We’re consuming sugary, carbonated drinks and not getting enough water. It’s not rocket science, all of these habits lead to obesity.”
The University of Cincinnati researchers expect to report results of the study on the pilot obesity prevention program by March of next year. Funding for the study is supported by a $5,000 national award from the American Dietetic Association Foundation – the Ann A. Hertzler Award. The foundation called for proposals in 2006 to address the behavioral and social aspects of childhood obesity. “This is a national level, very prestigious award,” says Sharma. “It is not a student award. The nation’s registered dietitians were competing for the award.”
Sharma is also co-investigator with UC Assistant Professor Judy Murnan on a UC|21 Alignment Grant awarded by UC International to study behaviors to prevent obesity among primary school children in China, in a partnership with Beijing Normal University. He says the research will be comparing data from the American and Chinese obesity prevention programs.