Projects and programs to combat childhood obesity have made great strides in health and behavior, yet the epidemic persists. Indeed, First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative has made the issue of childhood obesity a focal point and national priority.
The CDC has awarded the UH department of health and human performance $4.25 million over four years to create an innovative evaluation method that will examine and compare three comprehensive childhood obesity programs, as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Initiative.
“Resolving this critical issue will require efforts that target multiple sectors and layers of society, as well as changes in public policy,” said Daniel P. O’Connor, HHP associate professor and principal investigator. “Intervention efforts mean more than encouraging children to ‘eat less and exercise more.’ Our evaluation of these multifaceted programs must reflect the complexities of the problem and interventions if we are to gain valid and useful information.”
A recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that nearly 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years old are obese. Among children between the ages of 2 to 5 years old, obesity increased more than 5 percent in survey years from 1976-1980 and 2007 – 2008. In that same timeframe, obesity levels for children ages 6 – 11 increased more than 13 percent.
O’Connor and a multidisciplinary team of health researchers from UH’s Texas Obesity Research Center (TORC) and Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics (TIMES) will serve as the evaluation center component of the overall project. The project will evaluate three large-scale childhood obesity demonstration projects being implemented by CDC and researchers in three metropolitan regions.
These programs will be aimed at underserved children between the ages of 2 and 12. They will be disseminated not only among families and schools, but also through health care providers, community and faith-based organizations and the private sector, as well as incorporate changes in public and institutional policies. With data collected from the three programs, the UH team will provide a comprehensive evaluation of the various aspects of each programs’ delivery, effectiveness, feasibility and sustainability.
The project is part of a larger effort from the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion to create “Healthy People 2020,” a multi-level, multi-sector intervention program that links primary care with public health approaches and promotes behavioral and policy changes.
“The results will be used to make evidence-based recommendations to inform policy and resource decision-makers about enacting such programs nationally,” he said. “Additionally, we will create an ‘evaluation toolbox’ of methods that can be used to evaluate other types of complex programs and make policy recommendations in the future."
The Texas Obesity Research Center, housed in the department of health and human performance, promotes interdisciplinary and longitudinal research, education and training, and fosters local community collaborations to investigate the many causes of obesity and its consequences.
The mission of TIMES is to advance scientific discovery through the development and application of measurement, evaluation and statistical research methods.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to have a significant impact on a growing epidemic in our country,” said Chuck Layne, chair of the department of health and human performance. “That Dr. O’Connor has been able to assemble such an incredibly diverse and talented team of investigators from the University of Houston is a testament to the Tier One faculty who choose this city and this university to pursue their great work.”
For more information on the UH Texas Obesity Research Center: http://www.hhp.uh.edu/obesity/
For more information on UH TIMES: http://www.tlc2.uh.edu/times/For more information on the CDC’s Health People 2020: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/default.aspx