A partnership program developed by a University of Nebraska research team shows promise for addressing challenges related to early childhood obesity.
The pilot study, Partners in Health: In it Together, featured an interdisciplinary team representing three NU campuses. The work was led by Brandy Clarke, a visiting assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Through the program, parents, healthcare providers and behavioral health consultants work together to solve problems and implement health strategies for young children who are overweight or obese.
“Parents really are the driving force in the PHIT program,” Clarke said. “They are the ones making decisions about how to plan for their child’s health, and they’re doing it with guidance and information from the consultant.”
The pilot study included children ages 3 to 5 and their families. Participating families received a series of six home visits from behavioral health consultants. These consultants supported parents in using a structured, problem-solving process to address children’s diet, activity levels and sleep.
Many participating families had limited incomes and resources, Clarke said. Behavioral health consultants worked with parents to address issues including access to safe playgrounds, grocery stores and transportation.
Researchers found that participating children had positive changes in body mass index — a common health screening tool — compared to children in the control group. The participants also spent less time doing sedentary activities and more time engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve children’s health, and we’re doing that by supporting families to create environments that promote healthy habits,” Clarke said. “Our initial results are promising, but we still have more to learn about how we can change early health trajectories long term.”
Other key investigators from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln include Lorey Wheeler, a research assistant professor and co-director of the Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics; and Susan Sheridan, professor of educational psychology and director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.
Additional investigators include: Cristina Fernandez, pediatrician with the Creighton University Medical Center; Jung-Min Lee, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; and Terry Huang, professor at City University of New York.
The project is funded by the University of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Office of Research and Economic Development, and the Society for the Study of School Psychology. It is housed in the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools. The project is part of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Food for Health Collaboration initiative.