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K-State Today

September 26, 2012

K-State awarded $2.5 million grant to study kids, food

Submitted by Nancy B. Peterson

Many of today’s youth are overweight – or obese. And, while some are quick to blame oversized portions, fast or snack foods, and carbonated beverages, a Kansas State University nutrition researcher believes there’s more to it than that.

“We need to look at what kids are eating – and why,” said Tanda Kidd, associate professor in human nutrition at Kansas State University and K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist. That’s why Kidd organized a grant proposal to fund community-based research to learn more about sixth- to eighth-graders’ eating habits.

The $2.5 million research grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, with goals to identify barriers that stand between youth and healthy choices; develop strategies to overcome the barriers; and increase youths' consumption of health-promoting fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and physical activity.

Kidd will serve as project coordinator for the five-year effort. K-State will take the leadership role in the project that is shared with the Ohio State University and South Dakota State University.

We need to find solutions, Kidd said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of overweight or obese youth more than tripled – from 5 percent to 18 percent – in the last three decades.

Nutrition professionals also are predicting that at least one-third of today’s overweight or obese youth will be overweight or obese as adults.

“We already know that youth who are overweight are developing chronic illnesses -- high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes -- that were formerly considered adult-onset diseases,” Kidd said. “We also know that such chronic illnesses erode the quality of life, and increase health care costs for the individual, his or her family and community, and for our country.”

So, what can reverse the trend? Kidd said that prevention typically costs less than treatment.

She proposed a community-based participatory research model in which two communities with similar populations in number, race, ethnicity and income will be selected from each of the three participating states.

The control community will be given $5,000 to implement current proven strategies to encourage healthy choices.

The research community will bring stakeholders, including youth, their parents, teachers, community organizers and volunteers who interact with youth, together to explore food choices, eating habits and potential barriers or other factors that make increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet and adding health-promoting physical activity difficult, if not impossible.

Barriers might include socioeconomic level, the lack of neighborhood recreational facilities or school or afterschool programs that encourage physical activity, closing of a local grocery store, limited choices in fresh produce, and lack of knowledge about nutrition and health, Kidd said.

The community-based participatory research model is different than a traditional research project in which a control community would not receive anything from the researchers, while the intervention community would receive a treatment based on the ideas of the researchers.

Involving stakeholders and members of the target audience in identifying the barriers is expected to yield a greater investment in developing strategies to overcome them and following through, she said.

The five-year grant period also will allow communities to measure progress and to make adjustments as needed to determine the best practices to improve access to healthy foods and activities as well as encourage healthy choices.

Other K-State faculty members working on the project with Kidd are: Nancy Muturi, associate professor in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications; Koushik Adhikari, associate professor in the department of human nutrition's Sensory Analysis Center in the College of Human Ecology; and Mark Haub, interim head of the department of human nutrition.

“Society has been quick to recommend restricting certain foods in schools and/or ban or tax specific beverages without substantial data indicating those decisions will elicit the desired outcome," Haub said. "Dr. Kidd’s project will help us to better understand issues pertaining to eating choices of children, which will in turn inform community leaders about evidence-based options for improving the health of our children.”