September 6, 2012

Metro Parks, VU team on obesity prevention project

A collaboration between Vanderbilt Pediatric researchers and the Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation Department to prevent obesity is kicking into high gear with the recruitment of 600 area familes.

Colby Passaro, left, a research associate with the GROW project, shows 5-year-old Mya Hendricks and her mother, Lateasha North, examples of food portions as they prepare to enroll in the study at East Metro Recreation Center. (photo by John Russell)

A collaboration between Vanderbilt Pediatric researchers and the Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation Department to prevent obesity is kicking into high gear with the recruitment of 600 area familes.

The project, entitled “Growing Right Onto Wellness (GROW): Changing Early Body Mass Index (BMI) Trajectories,” is supported by a $12 million, seven-year grant awarded in 2010 by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

“We recently completed the formative phase of the project, where we spent two years learning from families who live in Northeast and South Nashville, and pilot testing the program,” said Shari Barkin M.D., GROW principal investigator and director of the Division of General Pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“This was critical and allows us to put science to work in practical ways to improve family health and prevent childhood obesity in early childhood.”

Recruitment efforts are now under way to register families with children at the highest risk for obesity who live in Northeast and South Nashville. Parent-preschooler pairs, or “dyads,” will be enrolled to participate at either the East Nashville or the Coleman Recreation Centers for the next three to five years.

The family-based program uses community recreation centers and the local libraries as existing “built environments” to support healthy growth and development. Paul Widman, associate director for Metro Parks and Recreation, said working with the researchers has brought a new view to program planning.

“Having this fresh eye on programming keeps us current. It’s a whole different dynamic of measurement, feedback, and evaluation. It used to be we thought the fitness center, the track, or the pool were our best selling points. But I was pleasantly surprised, with the GROW project, that programs around the kitchen and cooking were in huge demand and got a great response. That shows us we are able to put a lot of skills into play to offer similar classes elsewhere,” Widman said.

Before recruitment began, Vanderbilt researchers systematically worked through proof of many concepts. Their work includes an article published this month in the journal Pediatrics showing that a culturally tailored and family-centered 12-week program can reduce BMIs among Latino preschoolers, especially those who are obese.

Another publication in Childhood Obesity in April showed two-thirds of Latino families who attended culturally tailored programs continued to use their neighborhood recreation centers for at least the following year. A third publication, in the Journal of Obesity, found that these programs build new social networks that tend to form among mothers who perceived their children to be of similar body types.

“This is a brave new frontier. In the GROW trial we ask, ‘Can we build new social networks to amplify health outcomes within and between families?’” Barkin said.

Both Latino and African-American children are about twice as likely to be obese by age 5 as are Caucasian children. The GROW study has been designed for preschoolers because evidence shows weight trajectories are set early in life; so early prevention is more successful. If a child is overweight or obese by age 8, they are five times more likely to stay that way as an adolescent.
Recruitment will be broken into three separate waves over the next 18 months.

Eligible families will be randomly assigned to participate in either a healthy growth or healthy childhood development for school success course of learning. Both groups will build sustainable health habits at critical periods of childhood development over a three-year period.

Eligible participant pairs must meet the following criteria:

• A Spanish- or English-speaking parent with one 3-to-5-year-old child who can participate over a three year period;

• The family should live within a five-mile radius of Metro Nashville’s East Recreation Center or Coleman Recreation Center;

• The child should have a body mass index (BMI) that is greater than the 50th but less than 95th percentile among peers in their age group; and

• The family should receive assistance from at least one government program, such as WIC or TennCare.

For more information on registering for the GROW trial, please call 343-6441.