Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Researchers awarded grant to find effective methods for childhood obesity prevention

Childhood obesity is on the rise, and with it comes an increased risk for developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes. The best way to reduce the risk of serious weight-related health issues such as diabetes is to eat healthy and increase physical activity.

Researchers at Geisinger Health System's Henry Hood Center for Health Research and the University of Pennsylvania have been awarded a grant by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to find effective methods to prevent and treat childhood obesity in primary care settings for children ages 4 to 8 who are in the 85th percentile or higher body mass index (BMI). BMI is a weight for height category based on a child's age and sex. Children with BMI above the 85th percentile are more likely to develop lifelong weight-related health problems.

Families in Geisinger's Garden Gang study learn ways to eat more vegetables and fruits, decrease high-fat/high-sugar food and beverage intake, and increase physical activity. The goal of the study is to teach healthy lifestyles for children to maintain weight as they grow to bring the BMI below the 85th percentile.

According to Margaret Rukstalis, M.D., lead clinical researcher for the study, families with children between the ages of 4 to 8 who don't eat their fruits and vegetables and have a BMI of 85 percent or more qualify to participate. The study teaches kids and parents how to take a positive approach as they make healthy lifestyle modifications. Researchers will examine the effectiveness of educational handouts vs. a more intensive program.

"Finding an effective way to change behaviors is key," said Dr. Rukstalis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports the prevalence of children who are obese has doubled over the past two decades. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that 31.9 percent of children and adolescents were overweight (BMI at or above the 85th percentile) and 16.3 percent were obese (BMI at or above 95th percentile).

"This is the first time a study like this will be done in the primary care setting. Children from rural areas are particularly at risk for being overweight and obese, so this is a very relevant study for kids in our area, especially because an overweight or obese child has a higher likelihood of chronic medical problems and adult obesity," said Dr. Rukstalis. "Participants benefit because they receive state-of-the-art, evidence-based prevention and treatments while also giving back to science."

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Researchers awarded grant to find effective methods for childhood obesity prevention

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