Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio received a five-year $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to develop a new obesity management program.
For six months, the researchers will work with 230 child-parent pairs by using family counseling, text messages, and newsletters to control weight in obese or overweight Latino kids, and encourage them to eat healthier food and be physically active.
During the study, half the pairs will get in-clinic counseling on how to make healthy changes, while the other half will get the same in-clinic counseling plus phone counseling and culturally tailored text messages and newsletters to reinforce changes suggested through counseling.
The program is being conducted by the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR), the department at UTHSC that investigates the causes of and solutions to the unequal impact of cancer, chronic disease and obesity among Latinos in South Texas and beyond.
About 39 percent of Latino kids ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, compared to 32 percent of all U.S. youngsters. The institute has been actively trying to improve eating and activity habits among Latino communities and, up to now, besides the program, it has launched a new website – Salud! America – where they publish everything that can help fight obesity, from the places where healthier food can be found to the stories of those who have overcome obesity.
The simple goal is to have children increase their physical activity levels, consume more fruits and vegetables and fewer sugary drinks, and decrease their sedentary habits, explained Deborah Parra-Medina, the study’s principal investigator and a professor at the IHPR.
So far, researchers have found that Latino kids’ propensity to obesity is due to the fact that they have more limited access to exercise options and healthy food. Dr. Parra-Medina’s new obesity management program intends to fight these problems.
To achieve this goal, the program will limit television and computer time and establish a minimum of one hour a day of physical activity. In addition, it will encourage healthier eating habits through eating breakfast daily, more meals at home, meals as a family mostly everyday and allowing the child self-regulate his/her meals.
To reinforce these habits, Dr. David Akopian, from the University of Texas at San Antonio, will help implement the text system that will send culturally tailored messages.
The team will measure the impact of the program on body composition, insulin, glucose and cholesterol levels, and health behavior changes, like fruit and vegetable consumption.
The other scientists involved in the program are Cynthia Mojica, Ph.D., assistant professor, Laura Esparza, M.S., project coordinator, from IHPR faculty, Carisse Orsi, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, and Yuanyuan Liang, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, from the UT Health Science Center
A chronic problem with high prevalence in developed countries, obesity is associated with numerous health complications. Among issues such as cardiovascular illness or diabetes, researchers continue to find new complications related to obesity. Earlier this month, a laboratory at UTHSC found that obesity increases the risk o myeloma. Another consequence of obesity could be multiple sclerosis.