childhood obesity

UF, Rutgers, WVU to Help Combat Childhood Obesity

Dan Education, Florida, Research

by Brad Buck, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

childhood obesity

Dr. Karla Shelnutt. Family, Youth and Community Sciences.
Photo courtesy UF/IFAS

Parents serve as their children’s role models, and they buy most of the food their children eat. With that in mind, researchers from the University of Florida, Rutgers University, and West Virginia University will work with a five-year, $4 million grant to try to change home eating habits to help curb obesity.

UF/IFAS is receiving about $650,000 over the five-year grant, said Karla Shelnutt, a UF/IFAS associate professor of family, youth and community sciences. The grant is a multistate, multidisciplinary project under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers, including Shelnutt, hope to disseminate an educational program known as HomeStyles so it continues reducing the risk of obesity among preschool children. They also want to adapt and expand it to families with children who are 6 to 11 years old.

“In the end, we hope to have two versions of HomeStyles — for parents of preschoolers and 6 to 11-year-olds — that teach parents strategies to teach healthy living behaviors that ultimately lead to obesity prevention,” Shelnutt said. “We are also helping to adapt this curriculum for parents of 6 to 11-year-old children and test its effectiveness through the Family Nutrition Program.”

Family Nutrition Program (FNP) faculty and staff typically teach participants who qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, how to eat healthy on a budget. As a major part of the education, participants are encouraged to increase their consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods.

Shelnutt is the principal investigator for FNP at UF/IFAS.

As one of the project leaders, Shelnutt will work with Melissa Olfert, an associate professor at West Virginia University and Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, a professor at Rutgers, who leads the project.

“HomeStyles recognizes that parents buy the food and create the structure and lifestyle of the home,” Shelnutt said. “HomeStyles provides parents with the opportunity to learn information about obesity-prevention that they can implement in their homes quickly, easily and at a low cost.”

HomeStyles – developed by Rutgers faculty — teaches parents the principles through 12 instructional guides that focus on positive diet, physical activity and sleep strategies that families can implement at home. It also includes forms for tracking family goals. The parents get to choose which topics are most relevant to them and how they will apply that information.

Funding for the project comes from the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative, part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which is an arm of the U.S.D.A.

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