$1 Million USDA Grant Aims to Reduce Obesity Among Preschool Kids


The preschool years are a critical period for addressing weight-related behaviors among at-risk groups, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among young children, obesity has tripled since 1980, and the prevalence is highest among black and Hispanic children.

The UIC researchers have received a $950,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to integrate obesity-prevention strategies into programs delivered to low-income families through the University of Illinois Extension Cook County, and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Education.

Over the past decade, a team led by UIC psychologist Marian Fitzgibbon developed an obesity prevention intervention called "Hip-Hop to Health." The program has been used in Head Start and Chicago Public School preschool programs and was found to be effective in reducing future increases in body mass index (BMI) among 3- to 5-year-old minority, low-income children.

"By partnering with existing nutrition programs that are designed to provide information on basic nutrition, food budgeting, shopping skills and food safety to improve the health of low-income families, we will have direct access to a population of children at risk for obesity and related conditions," says Fitzgibbon, who is principal investigator of the study and deputy director of UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Hip-Hop to Health targets preschool children and their parents and includes programming on physical activity, television viewing, food available in the home, portion sizes, obesity prevention strategies, and contextual factors that can create barriers to healthy eating and physical activity.

Researchers will enroll approximately 180 parent/child pairs who attend the USDA’s Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs in Chicago. Study participants will receive Hip-Hop to Health or general nutrition programming during six sessions delivered over 6 months.

"The goal of the research is to implement an appealing and effective exercise and nutrition program for widespread use in clinical, community and school settings that addresses the problem of pediatric obesity," said Fitzgibbon.

Angela Odoms-Young, assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition, is co-principal investigator of the study; Carol Braunschweig associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition, and Melinda Stolley, associate professor of medicine, are co-investigators.

This news release was written by Sherri McGinnis-González, associate director of the UIC News Bureau.