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Research links family's role in reducing childhood obesity

Tue, 01/15/2013

LAWRENCE — Despite recent data showing that childhood obesity in the U.S. has begun to drop, overweight and obese kids and teens remain a personal and public health hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese — that’s roughly 12.5 million kids and teens.Ric Steele

“The data indicate that children with obesity just don’t have as good a quality of life,” said Ric Steele, professor of psychology and applied behavioral science at the University of Kansas. “Risk for type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing. The CDC predicts that within 20 years half of America will have type 2 diabetes. We can think about societal costs represented in this figure — that’s a monumental investment in an essentially preventable illness.” 

Steele says that there are individual costs as well: “At the individual level, children and adolescents with obesity may not feel as well.  They may not sleep as well. And they may actually experience some psychosocial problems like teasing, victimization, depressive symptoms — and just generally don’t feel as good as they could feel if they were in a healthier condition.”

For such children and teens, Steele has compared the effectiveness of two intervention programs that depend upon the child or teen’s entire family for support. The KU researcher said that engaging the family is critical for developing healthier eating and lifestyle habits that lead to a reduction in weight in children and teens.

“Kids don’t do shopping for themselves usually,” Steele said. “For kids, eating decisions and exercise decisions are based in part on what’s considered normal. So for me, as the dad, to say, ‘Go outside and play,’ if I’m not willing to be active, too — that sends a mixed message that doesn’t really work for the kids. We think about a whole family approach. We all want to be healthy. So regardless if I’m personally overweight or not, I need to live a lifestyle that’s healthy and will encourage a healthy lifestyle for all of the members of my family.”

In a paper published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Steele compared Positively Fit, a nutrition, exercise and behavior modification program for children and their families, which featured 90-minute counseling sessions and spanned 10 weeks, with a brief family intervention consisting of three hourlong visits with a dietitian.

“Both of the groups ended up losing weight from pre-intervention to post-intervention and at one year followup,” said Steele. “That’s particularly true for the pre-adolescents.”

Steele used zBMI (age- and sex- standardized body mass index) for the primary outcome of the study. At the one-year followup, 41 percent of the participants in the Positively Fit program saw reductions greater than 0.18 in zBMI. Meantime, 38 percent of the participants in the brief family intervention also met this measure.

“Even though weight loss didn’t differ very much between the two groups, self-reported quality of life improved dramatically for the kids in the Positively Fit program,” said Steele. “We assume that’s because of some of the topics covered in the Positively Fit group sessions. We talk about eating out, we talk about being around peers who may or may not be overweight, and we talk about victimization and teasing. We deal with a lot of real-world problems in Positively Fit that the other intervention just doesn’t deal with. So it makes sense that their quality of life would have improved due to the intervention.”

One group that didn’t see large changes to zBMI was adolescents.

“Parents have so much more influence over the younger kids,” Steele said. “Your 14-year-old or 15-year-old? Their job in a sense is to break away and be more independent. So it may take a different kind of intervention for those adolescents who are more autonomous and increasing in their autonomy over time.”  Steele’s current work is investigating ways to make the intervention even more effective for families.

For his paper, Steele won the 2012 Diane J. Willis Award for Outstanding Article in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.  Articles for this award are selected from the journal based on contribution and value to the field of pediatric psychology, demonstrating innovation and excellence in methodology and design, and providing an exemplar for others to model.



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@KU bschool 's KIP team includes @KU _SADP students in all-ages housing project. http://t.co/c6Ss0FsWLL #KUworks http://t.co/FW0eI69uRi
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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