Assessing Food Intake and Physical Activity of Children

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States, and has far reaching consequences for children. This project will look at the validity of using the Personal Activity Location Measurement System (PALMS), developed at the University of California-San Diego, to simultaneously process accelerometer-based physical activity data and GPS-based location data to identify preschool children’s physical activity, transportation, and location, will be evaluated. Further developing and validating the PALMS protocols, processing algorithms and technologies for young children in the Houston, TX, area will provide critical information to inform policy and interventions to promote greater physical activity for young children.

Research Faculty: Teresia M. O'Connor, M.D., MPH, FAAP

Prevention of Obesity and Related Diseases

Obesity among adults and children has reached epidemic proportions. Today, an estimated two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and one-third of U.S. children are overweight and 17 percent are obese. Overweight children tend to remain overweight during follow-up periods of up to 20 years. Obesity is the result of energy imbalance, and dietary behaviors associated with overweight need to be examined. A major goal of this project is to identify new determinants of obesity. In this respect, while both nutrients and individual foods have been assessed for their association with obesity, few attempts have been made to identify broader eating patterns. The overall pattern of a diet may have more of an impact on obesity than any one food or nutrient. Consequently, this project aims to identify eating patterns associated with dietary intake and obesity in children, adolescents, and adults using extant datasets. Also, there is a greater tendency for children becoming obese if reared in a low-income, food insecure household.  Food insecurity is related to poor dietary behaviors that can lead to net positive energy balance and obesity. Low-income families often experience food insecurity which is characterized by alternating patterns of “feast and famine”, placing them at a higher risk for obesity. Thus, this project also aims to assess the impact of food security status on dietary intake, diet quality, and nutrient density, as well as participation in federal food assistance programs, consumer behaviors, and food costs.

Research Faculty: Theresa A Nicklas, Dr.P.H. / Jayna Markand Dave, Ph.D.

Environment and Children’s Eating Behavior

Obesity is the most prevalent and severe nutrition related pediatric problem, especially among lower income and ethnic minority children. Most child obesity prevention interventions have not been effective. There has been disagreement about whether this lack of documented success has been due to a) inaccurate measurement for assessing what were really effective programs; b) not understanding what behaviors contribute to obesity; c) not understanding how parents influence those child behaviors; d) not effectively addressing cultural influences; or e) not using intervention procedures that effectively manipulated how parents related to their child. Three independent research projects are proposed to address these knowledge gaps.  Objectives 1 and 2 (Baranowski) propose to develop new technology that combines objective and self report procedures to measure diet and physical activity that eliminate many of the known errors in self report. Objectives 3-5 (Thompson) propose to a) identify the child behaviors contributing to obesity among 8- to 10-year-old African American girls; b) conduct formative qualitative research with parents of this age child; and c) develop and assess the feasibility of an innovative text message intervention for parents to change the home food and activity environments. The final objective (Hughes) proposes to a) identify family factors that impact or moderate what parents do to influence their child’s diet; b) analyze how feeding styles interrelate with feeding practices to influence child’s diet; and c) develop and test sophisticated comprehensive statistical models of these variables. These projects address several important knowledge gaps, and thereby establish a firm foundation for family-based obesity prevention interventions and evaluations in the future.

Research Faculty: Thomas Baranowski, Ph.D. / Deborah I. Thompson, Ph.D., RD / Sheryl O. Hughes, Ph.D.

Developing the Baylor Infant Twin Study Cohort

Since over 25 percent of preschoolers are already overweight or obese, it is vital to understand earlier (infant) correlates of obesity. One such factor is infant temperament, which encapsulates three domains: surgency, negative affect and affiliation / orienting. Negative affect in infancy has been repeatedly associated with childhood obesity. The affiliation / orienting domain of infant temperament has been largely unexplored in infants (<1 year of age) for its association with child weight status, and since this may be an important predictor of child weight status my long-term goal is to examine the association of affiliation / orienting with child eating behaviors and weight status. Since maternal reports of temperament related behaviors may be influenced by the mothers’ own perceptions and experiences, before definitive conclusions can be drawn about infant temperament and its impact on childhood obesity an objective measure of infant temperament based on direct observation, must be used. However, there exists little data on what observation-based measure of infant temperament will give a temporally and contextually stable assessment. The aim of this project is to compare existing measures of infant temperament to select an efficient observational protocol for assessing affiliation / orienting in four-month old infants. This tool will be used in subsequent research which provides a better and more complete understanding of the association between infant temperament domains and childhood obesity. 

Research Faculty: Alexis Wood