October 9, 2009

American Heart Association lauds pediatric obesity research

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Sabina Gesell, Ph.D.

American Heart Association lauds pediatric obesity research

Sabina Gesell, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Pediatrics, has received an American Heart Association (AHA) Clinical Research Award for promising early career investigators.

Gesell's work addresses pediatric obesity by attempting to disrupt the cycle of maternal-child obesity that begins in pregnancy.

Her research focuses on preventing excessive weight gain during pregnancy and weight retention after pregnancy in recent immigrants from Mexico.

With the $150,000 AHA grant, Gesell will work with Catholic Charities of Tennessee to enroll 30 women who are in the early stages of their first pregnancy.

The goal is to understand whether the social ties that women form during pregnancy can change the mother's behavior (i.e. improve nutrition, activity and breastfeeding), with the ultimate goal of reducing obesity.

Research shows that Latin women in the United States are particularly at-risk for obesity during pregnancy. Research shows obesity in a mother increases the risk for obesity in her child.

“A key element of the obesity pandemic is the cycle that begins with obese mothers,” Gessell said.

“Efforts to interrupt the cycle of maternal-infant health complications that begin with obesity in pregnancy could have a significant public health and economic impact.

“We know that once obesity is established, it is difficult to reverse.”

Gesell will work with leaders in the Nashville Latino community and Catholic Charities on strategies to keep the women involved in network groups at least through the first six months after the birth of their children.

Women will be randomized into either the tailored social network program with anti-obesity lessons, or a group that does not build new social networks and target obesity issues.