UNM Research Study Examines Childhood Obesity


CONTACT: Cathleen Rneer-Garber, (505) 220-2892

APRIL 3, 2006

A research study recently launched by the University of New Mexico 's Prevention Research Center will evaluate the efficacy of early intervention in the prevention of obesity. The Child Health Initiative for Lifelong Eating and Exercise (CHILE), a five-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health, will focus on more than 600 preschool age children in New Mexico .

" Nutrition and physical activity during childhood are important, not only for growth and development, but because health behaviors established early in childhood track into adulthood and can affect long-term health and disease risk," says Sally Davis, PhD, professor and chief of the UNM Department of Pediatrics' division of health promotion and disease prevention and director of the UNM Prevention Research Center.

According to Davis , early childhood health behaviors related to diet and physical activity have particular implications for childhood obesity. "While the causes of obesity are complex, diet, physical activity and television viewing time directly influence a child's weight and ultimately his or her health," she says.

The purpose of the study is to design, implement and evaluate a culturally appropriate intervention program for children attending 16 Head Start programs around the state. The proposed locations include Jemez, Laguna, Estancia, Jarales, Espanola, Santa Rosa , Acoma , Espanola, Santa Domingo, Pecos , Mora, Chimayo, Hatch, Taos , Las Vegas and Bernalillo.

Although children from all ethnic groups are affected by the obesity trends, CHILE will focus on rural American Indian and Hispanic children. "These communities and populations are disproportionately affected by obesity and related chronic diseases and conditions," says Davis .

The study will promote increased physical activity; increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; decreased consumption of sweetened beverages and high-fat foods; and decreased screen time. This will be accomplished through six different components including classroom curriculum and training for Head Start teachers, aides, food service staff and families.Davis says that interventions that address not only individual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior but also the social and physical environment have the potential for greater impact.

Children participating in the study will be followed for two years. Measures taken at the beginning, at mid-point and at the end of the project will include height, weight, body mass index, dietary assessment, and levels of physical activity to assess the success of the intervention.

With childhood obesity rates reaching epidemic proportions across the United States , finding effective prevention methods has become a vital public health issue. Since the 1970s, the prevalence of overweight among children has more than doubled for preschoolers ages two to five and adolescents ages 12-19, while it has more than tripled for children 6-11 years.

According to Davis, overweight children have a much greater chance of becoming overweight adults—and overweight adults have a much greater risk of developing serious health problems including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and arthritis.

Most health experts agree that the key to reversing the obesity trend is to engage children at an early age in developing healthy habits and providing a social and physical environment that supports these behaviors.

"We are excited about the opportunity to work in rural Head Start programs where we can reach a large number of three-to-five-year-old children, their teachers and their families," says Davis . "If the intervention is successful it has the potential to influence the lives of New Mexicans and Head Start policy nationwide."

For more information on CHILE , contact Sally Davis at (505) 272-4462.

Contact: Luke Frank, 272-3322

Related Stories

Field Notes

Field Notes

HERO Chantel Lovato Collects Face Masks for Santa Rosa Businesses