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Nationwide effort to tackle racial disparity in childhood obesity

Healthy meals going to communities in need during coronavirus pandemic
Posted at 7:34 PM, Jul 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 20:54:03-04

A new effort aims to tackle racial disparities in childhood obesity. The National Institutes of Health just awarded researchers $5 million in support of the effort, which hopes to break the obesity cycle.

“It allows families to feel like they’re just changing behaviors, not taking medication or anything like that,” said Dr. Jerica Berge.

With a hypothesis and a lot of support, the lead investigator aims to make a difference.

“We do know that families from African American backgrounds have children that have higher obesity rates as well as Hispanic and Native American families, and so this study looks at those households and white households."

The University of Minnesota Medical School researcher says they have the statistics. They know that disparities exist when it comes to childhood obesity, now they need to figure out the best way to stop it.

“Each arm has different elements; first is doing momentary phones and families get texts throughout the day to help reduce stress levels and other things that lead to less-healthy home food environments and feeding practices.”

The other elements, which Dr. Berge calls "arms," are efforts. Things like a community health worker helping families create a healthy food environment and seeing whether that effort is better in person or virtually.

“When you find one of those arms is more effective than the other, you move towards being able to use that in clinical practice to help more families across the nation or world," Berge said.

The study is targeting kids between the ages of five and eight. Dr. Carolyn Bramante's research focuses on obesity in both children and adults and she attests to the fact that the disease needs to be corrected early.

“I have a number of children who are 8, 9, and 10 years old and they have knee pain and hip pain, and they want to move more and keep up with their friends; keeping those values in mind and reaching those healthy goals is part of it too," Dr. Bramante said.

Bramante added, though, it's deeper than that. There are mental health problems associated with obesity and the focus needs to be on the future.

“Someone who does not have obesity as an adult but did as a child is at increased risk of heart disease and diabetes even as an adult.”

Researchers need 500 families to sign up. The intervention is about nine months and their progress is followed. It's one step at breaking the cycle before it's too late.

Those interested in learning more about the study can email family1@umn.edu for more information.