Preventing Obesity in High Risk Families

Obesity has become the number one health concern in young Americans, and Land-Grant universities are collaborating on innovative research and extension efforts to help reverse this trend. Since obesity was first declared a public health concern in 1952, the number of overweight or obese U.S. citizens has reached epidemic levels. By 2002, 65% of adults in the U.S. were overweight, and 31% were obese. This trend is especially concerning in children and adolescents, as people who become obese during childhood tend to have much more difficulty adopting healthy lifestyles as they grow up. Excessive body weight has been proven to increase risk of other chronic diseases, leading to a much higher rate of other health problems among obese patients that otherwise might be avoided. Despite billions of dollars in government spending in an attempt to address this problem, the situation has barely improved. Additionally, existing data on factors that can lead to obesity is rather limited, and few studies have been done on family behaviors that can prevent this.

In reaction to these gloomy statistics, Land-Grant Universities across the U.S. have taken the initiative in conducting new research and creating new extension programs to address obesity in more effective ways with the W-1005 project. Scientists from multiple disciplines and parts of the U.S. have come together to study key behaviors associated with obesity in children ages three to 10. By conducting hundreds of surveys and interviews, researchers have discovered specific behaviors, parenting styles, socioeconomic and cultural factors that are often linked to obesity. Additionally, researchers have identified factors that contribute to resilience to obesity among families exposed to factors that typically promote obesity, as well as family opinions of current programs and techniques so that they can be improved. Furthermore, surveys have pointed out what changes individuals and families are willing and able to make and which methods and tools will be needed for successful interventions. This research has stimulated new approaches for prevention programs and intervention strategies.

For example, a W-1005 member now chairs a national expert panel convened to develop ways to integrate the “dynamic energy balance” approach into training programs for practitioners and into nutrition and physical activity educational programs for the public.

So far, Land-Grant University efforts to address this important national problem have been valuable and successful. Researchers will continue working to identify potential training, programming, and policy needs that will help educators and parents follow established national guidelines and provide positive environments and examples for children so that sustainable changes can continue to be made.

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