West Virginia Early Childhood Obesity Program

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Susan Partington

Susan Partington

Susan Partington (PI)
Associate Professor of Human Nutrition and Foods
West Virginia University

Donald J. Lacombe

Donald J. Lacombe

Donald J. Lacombe
Research Associate Professor, RRI, Economics, and Resource Management
West Virginia University

Gianfranco Piras

Gianfranco Piras

Gianfranco Piras
Research Assistant Professor, RRI
West Virginia University

Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy
Extension Specialist, Department of Pediatrics
West Virginia University

ElaineBowen

ElaineBowen

Elaine Bowen
Extension Specialist-Health Promotion
West Virginia University

 

 

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and the prevalence of this problem in West Virginia is among the highest in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that “Fifteen percent of [West Virginia] youth (9th–12th grades) are overweight, and another 17% are obese, according to 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data.”

Chronic diseases, formerly associated with adult obesity and rarely seen in children, are now apparent in our youngest citizens. The long-term negative impact of childhood obesity and chronic disease on life expectancy and quality of life make early childhood obesity prevention a vital and immediate public health concern.

West Virginia University will confront that concern with the help of a five-year, almost $5 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The funding will support the development of effective pediatric obesity prevention strategies.

Over the course of the five-year project, community stakeholders, parents, educators, healthcare professionals, and researchers will collaborate to develop these strategies. Efforts will begin with an assessment of behavioral and environmental contributors to obesity in early childhood, followed by analysis of this extensive assessment to inform the design and implementation of a community-, school-, and home-level interventions.

The study population will be families with children in school-based and center-based Head Start/pre-kindergarten settings in two West Virginia counties, Kanawha and Monongalia.

Given the scope and complexity of the problem of childhood obesity, WVU’s team represents a comprehensive range of disciplines and expertise.

The group will be led by Susan Partington, associate professor of human nutrition and foods in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. Partington is responsible for general oversight of the project, including research, education and Extension activities.

WVU Extension Service’s Families and Health unit, will focus primarily on interaction with schools in the participating counties. Emily Murphy, childhood obesity prevention specialist, and Elaine Bowen, health promotion specialist, will work with advisory committees, collect feedback from focus groups, and facilitate implementation of obesity prevention strategies, helping schools incorporate nutrition education and physical activity into early childhood education.

The long-term follow-up impact of this study will be assessed with coordinated efforts of WVU’s long-running CARDIAC Project, according to Lesley Cottrell of the WVU School of Medicine. The CARDIAC Project has provided in-school health assessments to thousands of West Virginia children over the past decade and will provide a final health assessment for the children in this study.

WVU’s Regional Research Institute will offer its economic expertise. Research associate professor Donald J. Lacombe and research assistant professor Gianfranco Piras will conduct statistical analysis of the data using spatial econometric techniques, examining not only data from the obesity research but the use of the techniques themselves.