Families with overweight children subject of new study at University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing

May 24, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas—Helping overweight children obtain healthier lifestyles is the focus of a new $368,000 study at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing.

Dr. Diane Tyler, associate professor of clinical nursing, has received a two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health for her research on “Children’s Health and Weight Study” (CHEWS).

“Childhood overweight has rapidly increased in the past three decades, with 14 million U.S. children overweight and an additional 8.6 million at risk for being overweight,” said Tyler. “Experts agree as to why the obesity epidemic has occurred. We haven’t changed genetically, but our lifestyles and the environment have. Current research initiatives focus on preventing and treating overweight.”

Preventive care with early intervention is the logical approach, especially because there is evidence that once an individual is obese, it is very difficult to lose and maintain weight loss, said Tyler.

“Given all that is out there—computers, videos, DVDs, fast food, large serving sizes—what can we as health providers do to encourage more physical activity and better eating?” she said. “How can we help overweight children and their families make behavior changes in order to have and maintain a healthy weight?”

Minority children are at greatest risk for being overweight and among school-age children, Mexican American children are most likely to be overweight, Tyler said.

The research is being conducted at two nurse-managed school-based health centers: the Children’s Wellness Center in Del Valle, created and supported by the School of Nursing, and the Wellness Encouraged through Lifelong Learning (WELL) Clinic in Hays County.

“School-based clinics provide affordable and easy to access primary health care services and are innovative settings for identifying and intervening with low-income overweight children and their families,” Tyler said.

Participants in the pilot study range from 8 to12 years old. The researchers look at weight-related health indicators like waist circumference, quality of life, blood pressure, physical fitness and blood lipid, insulin and glucose levels. They then evaluate changes in children’s lifestyle behaviors (diet, physical activity, sedentary activity and general health) after participating in the 12-week weight management program. Thirty children from each clinic are participating and will be followed for nine months.

Each child is given a pedometer and a variety of incentives (jump rope, water bottle and sport balls) in addition to counseling tips on healthy lifestyles and weight control. Just decreasing sugar drinks to eight ounces a day and limiting screen time to less than two hours a day can help, Tyler said.

Children are asked about food frequency and servings, numbers of hours a day spent viewing television and video, and time spent on computers, among other questions.

Tyler sees the most important aspect of the study as not what is done, but rather how.

“How are we helping to motivate parents and children to make change?” she said. “How are we listening to them and providing information? Weight and health result from lifelong patterns. Learning strategies to help families make healthy choices and discover what works for them in their struggles to change routines and behavior gives meaning to the CHEWS project title.”

For more information contact: Nancy Neff, School of Nursing, 512-471-6504.