Studies look at how to reduce childhood obesity

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.) last week launched two major research efforts, totaling $72.5 million, to examine ways to curtail the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. One will study long-term approaches to prevent or treat childhood obesity, and the other will examine community efforts to reduce childhood obesity rates.

“Childhood obesity is a major public health concern,” said Susan B. Shurin, M.D., acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (N.H.L.B.I.)., the lead sponsor for both programs. “If we don’t curb this widespread problem, our country will see a substantial increase in cardiovascular disease and other health issues in the years ahead. Childhood is the optimal time to encourage healthy habits that kids can practice the rest of their lives.”

The first research effort, which will include $49.5 million in funding, will be known as the Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Research (COPTR) program. The N.I.H. said it is among the first long-term obesity prevention and treatment research studies in children and will feature two obesity prevention and two obesity treatment randomized clinical trials conducted over seven years.

The research program will test methods for preventing excessive weight gain in non-overweight and moderately overweight youth, and methods for reducing weight in obese and severely obese youth. Investigators will collaborate with local, state, and national organizations on these efforts.

According to the N.I.H., the C.O.P.T.R. differs from previous childhood obesity research programs in that it will test long-term intervention approaches and target multiple levels of influence — community youth organizations, schools, primary care providers, home, and families — and will not focus solely on individuals’ behaviors.
The program is sponsored by the N.H.L.B.I., the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (N.I.C.H.D.), and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (O.B.S.S.R.).

The second research study will evaluate existing community efforts to reduce local childhood obesity rates. The N.I.H. has awarded a five-year, $23 million contract to Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, to examine community programs and policies in 300 demographically diverse communities across the nation. The community efforts to be evaluated are those designed to decrease local childhood obesity rates in areas where childhood obesity rates are highest. Investigators will examine how effective such efforts are in changing behaviors and reducing body weight.

“Over the past several years, communities across the United States have been implementing programs and policies to encourage healthier eating, increase opportunities for physical activity, and other steps to reverse increasing rates of childhood obesity,” said Denise Simons-Morton, Ph.D., director of the N.H.L.B.I.’s Division for the Application of Research Discoveries. “This study will evaluate such community programs to determine which of them or their components are the most promising approaches for improving children’s obesity-related health behaviors and weight.”

The N.H.L.B.I. is the lead sponsor of the community evaluation study, which also receives support from the N.I.H.’s N.I.C.H.D., the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the O.B.S.S.R.

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