News

3.31.2015

USDA Awards UM Grant for Childhood Obesity Prevention Program

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $584,661 to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Ruby Natale, Ph.D., Psy.D., and Sarah E. Messiah, Ph.D., MPH. The funds will be used for the first year of their three-year childhood obesity prevention programming. In total, they will receive almost $1.6 million for the three years of their study.

Messiah, a research associate professor at Miller, said that Phase I of their USDA-funded research was dedicated to a three-year trial in local early care and education centers that tested multiple components of obesity prevention, including education, menu and physical activity changes for parents, teachers and children. “After reviewing the results of Phase 1 of our program, we saw a positive effect on healthy eating habits and changes in body mass index (BMI),” she said.

Starting on April 1, the second phase of their trial will focus more on policy. “While we are conducting a randomized trial with the schools,” Messiah said, “we are phasing ourselves out so the schools can take control and ownership of the programming.”

Natale and Messiah’s team will train early case and education staff and parents in partnership with the USDA Cooperative Extension. They will roll the training out at 12 schools randomized to the treatment arm of the trial in the first and second years of the study. In the third year they will expand to more than 400 preschools within Miami-Dade County.

The schools will use their copyrighted Healthy Caregivers, Healthy Children curriculum, which includes lesson plans, policy changes, healthy menus and other components to increase activity levels and health and wellness education in the early developmental years. They will also conduct site evaluations to assess functionality of the kitchens and play areas to determine if benchmarks can be met within the current school environments.

“This grant enables us to continue the important work we are doing,” Natale, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, said. “Our research has shown the impact that parents and teachers as healthy role models can make on not only a child’s life, but also on their family’s overall well-being. We are very optimistic that the latest phase of our research will provide further evidence that healthy living introduced to children during early development can impact life-long health.”

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