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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.



When looking to tackle the issue of obesity in rural America, where should we start? The answer is not what you might think. Empathy, says Christie Befort, an associate professor at KU who has just won a $10 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to investigate solutions to rural obesity. Many physicians are embarrassed talking about weight—especially in a small town where everybody knows each other, Befort says. By providing obesity treatment options in rural primary care, she plans to start a conversation, and maybe a revolution, in rural health care. For more details on Befort's efforts, check out the 2015 Chancellor's Report: http://bit.ly/1D5A5MO and her video: http://bit.ly/1C5xYZa Tags: #KUcommunities #Obesity #Health #Rural #Midwest Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute - PCORI

Whistling the night away. #exploreKU shot by saamanthathomas on insta. http://t.co/JFZcj31X8h
Explore KU: Experience a KU Men's Basketball tradition It’s explosive. It’s dramatic. It’s intimidating. It’s a KU tradition (see more at http://bit.ly/KUtraditions) simply known as the Confetti Toss. But it creates a primal eruption of fan enthusiasm at the opening of every KU men’s basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse. It starts as the visiting team is introduced on court. The KU student section is visibly bored and unimpressed. The entire section under the north basket holds up University Daily Kansans — making the point they’d rather read the newspaper than even look at the other team. They shake and rustle the student newspapers. Then the moment they were waiting for arrives — the Jayhawks enter the court. All Rock Chalk breaks loose. Newspapers, confetti and thousands of thundering voices soar into already charged atmosphere of KU’s hallowed basketball arena. The confetti hits its high point, near the banner on the north wall reading “Pay Heed, All Who Enter: Beware of the Phog.” And the confetti rains back into the stands, onto the court and into the memories of all at hand. It’s time to play.


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