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ARRA Investments in Childhood Obesity


Public Health Burden
Obesity and overweight are at epidemic levels among U.S. children. Clinicians are now reporting precursors of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in children and even the emergence of these disorders, once largely limited to adulthood Excessive weight in childhood increases the probability of excessive weight in adulthood, with attendant risks of pregnancy complications, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and other disorders and disabilities. Researchers recently reported a near-doubling in pediatric hospitalizations with a diagnosis of obesity between 1999 and 2005, when such costs rose from $125.9 million to $237.6 million (in 2005 dollars). Other researchers estimated that the annual medical burden of obesity in children and adults would reach almost 10 percent of all medical spending, or $147 billion per year, in 2008. For the most part, expenditures were not for obesity treatments, but for conditions associated with excess weight.

Origins of Childhood Obesity and Overweight
Childhood obesity is a complex condition.  Problematic food choices and lack of exercise appear the most obvious origins of pediatric overweight, but scientists think that multiple factors beyond the control of an individual child, or even a child’s family, play important roles.  Factors such as a child’s genetic makeup; the health and weight of the child’s mother during pregnancy; family, neighborhood, and school attitudes; opportunities with regard to diet and exercise; and larger societal influences may interact to determine a child’s weight.  Multiple ARRA-funded projects explore the potential contributions of a range of factors to childhood obesity.  A few key projects are designed to:
  • Determine how maternal diet during early pregnancy chemically modifies maternal and fetal DNA without changing its structure (methylation), and how such epigenetic modification predicts obesity and cardiovascular risk factors in children.1
  • Study the effect of maternal depression on children’s eating behaviors, to provide evidence for developing interventions addressing food insecurity, nutrition, and obesity in young children.2
  • Investigate dietary differences across ethnic and socioeconomic groups to better understand whether and how diet may contribute to health disparities, including obesity, in U.S. children.3
  • Examine how nutritional information and costs of healthy and unhealthy food affect food purchases and how food servings in the home influence food consumption and weight.4
  • Evaluate how competence in motor skills and fitness influence a child’s physical activity and obesity.5
Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity and Overweight
Short-term interventions may help obese and overweight children to lose excess weight, but maintaining healthy weight over time is an elusive goal for many young patients.  ARRA funds support studies of interventions addressing a range of factors that may enhance a child’s efforts to achieve healthy weight control.  Early intervention is considered critical to reducing lifetime risks of overweight and obesity.  A few key projects are designed to:
  • Test whether giving fish oil to overweight and obese pregnant women decreases excessive accrual of fat in the fetus.6
  • Develop an effective parenting intervention to teach parents how to improve children’s diets and lower their obesity risk.7
  • Determine clinically whether a specific behavior intervention can help children who achieved short-term weight loss to maintain their healthy weight, compared to a standard educational program.8
  • Evaluate an in-classroom, education-focused physical activity intervention that may serve as a model for other obesity-prevention school-based programs nationwide.9
  • Examine the associations between obesity and psychosocial adjustment during adolescence, to help develop and improve age-appropriate interventions.10



  1. 1RC1HD063590-01 -- Epidemiology & Epigenetics: Maternal Diet, DNA Methylation, & Offspring Adiposity -- Gillman, Matthew (MA)
  2. 1R03HD055224-01A2 -- Maternal Depression, Family Food Behavior, and Child Nutritional Health --McCurdy, Karen P. (RI)
  3. 1R21HD060217-01 -- Trends in Ethnic and Socioeconomic Differentials in Diet Quality in American Children -- Kant, Ashima K. (NY)
  4. 1RC1HD063370-01 -- Nudging Nutrition: Setting Healthier Defaults in Stores and Homes -- Wansink, Brian (NY)
  5. 1R21HD055621-01A2 -- Examining the Dynamic Relationship between Motor Competence and Physical Activity -- Goodway, Jaqueline Dawn (OH)
  6. 1R01HD057236-01A1 -- Omega-3 Supplementation Decreases Inflammation and Fetal Obesity In Pregnancy -- Catalano, Patrick Michael (OH)
  7. 1R21HD058175-01A1 -- How Can Parents Get their Kids to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables? -- Baranowski, Tom (TX)
  8. 2R01HD036904-06A2 -- Childhood Obesity Treatment -- A Maintenance Approach -- Wilfley, Denise Ella (MO)
  9. 1RC1HD063607-01 -- Preventing Obesity in the Bronx: Impact of the “Moving Smart Intervention -- Ozuah, Philip (NY)
  10. 1R03HD058122-01A1 -- Obesity and Psychosocial Adjustment during Adolescence -- Xie, Bin (CA)


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Page Last Updated on June 30, 2018 NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®