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children playing

$1.1m Grant for Nutrition Experts

$1.1 million grant funds UI nutrition experts’ efforts to address obesity in young children
By  Bill Loftus
University of Idaho child nutrition and development experts are part of a team using a $1.1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to help parents and childcare facility operators better address issues of childhood obesity. University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences researchers, Laurel Branen, Coeur d’Alene, and Janice Fletcher, Moscow, are studying the perceptions of parents and childcare providers.

The need is clear for childcare staff to communicate with parents about sensitive issues such as their children’s weight and the need for physical activity, say the two University of Idaho professors of family and consumer sciences. Fletcher quotes data that show children who were overweight at 3 years old were overweight at 12; children who weren’t overweight at 3 weren’t at 12.

Branen and Fletcher have interviewed childcare providers and parents to better understand issues they face. Cultural aspects of the family guide eating habits, and those habits, along with the children’s physical activity levels, affect the risk of obesity. But weight and eating issues are difficult for childcare providers to address, Branen said.

Regarding the challenge of discussing a child's obesity, “It is much easier for childcare providers to talk with parents about a child development issue than about feeding or nutrition, or that a child seems to be developing a weight issue,” said Branen. About obesity in young children, Fletcher said, “We may not see it in 2- and 3-year-olds, but we’re definitely seeing it in 4- and 5-year-olds.”

This USDA National Research Initiative grant includes University of Colorado researchers and colleagues at Washington State University. The next phase of the project includes development and dissemination of information collected from parents and childcare operators. The end goal is to provide information and training modules through a Web site with the help of Erik Anderson, director of the college’s educational communications unit.

Contact Janice Fletcher at jfletcher@uidaho.edu or Laurel Branen at ljbranen@uidaho.edu.