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Researchers develop family-centered approach to address child obesity

Posted December 7, 2017

The pilot study, Partners in Health: In it Together, featured an interdisciplinary team representing three NU campuses. The work was led by Brandy Clarke, a visiting assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Through the program, parents, healthcare providers and behavioral health consultants work together to solve problems and implement health strategies for young children who are overweight or obese.

Christina Fernandez, a pediatrician with the Creighton University Medical Center, examines a child. A partnership that included researchers from four Nebraska universities shows promise in assisting parents with early childhood obesity.

“Parents really are the driving force in the PHIT program,” Clarke said. “They are the ones making decisions about how to plan for their child’s health, and they’re doing it with guidance and information from the consultant.”

The pilot study included children ages 3 to 5 and their families. Participating families received a series of six home visits from behavioral health consultants. These consultants supported parents in using a structured, problem-solving process to address children’s diet, activity levels and sleep.

Many participating families had limited incomes and resources, Clarke said. Behavioral health consultants worked with parents to address issues including access to safe playgrounds, grocery stores and transportation.

Researchers found that participating children had positive changes in body mass index — a common health screening tool — compared to children in the control group. The participants also spent less time doing sedentary activities and more time engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve children’s health, and we’re doing that by supporting families to create environments that promote healthy habits,” Clarke said. “Our initial results are promising, but we still have more to learn about how we can change early health trajectories long term.”

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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