Study to offer clearer picture of kids' food choices

7/30/2013

BY NANCY B. PETERSON

BY NANCY B. PETERSON

K-State Research and Extension News Media Services

MANHATTAN — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one-third of U.S. youth who are currently overweight — or obese — are more likely to become overweight adults.

Overweight and obese youth face increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, greater health care costs and a lesser quality of life.

And, while there is speculation that this current generation of youth may not live as long as their parent's generation, research on overweight youth and obesity is ongoing.

Tanda Kidd, an associate professor in human nutrition at Kansas State University and a K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist, has earned a five-year, $2.5 million grant to study eating habits using a community-based participatory research model with sixth through eighth grade youth in limited-resource communities. The study is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Food Research Initiative.

Kidd's goal is to engage research teams to work with youth, parents, school officials, Extension agents, and others involved in providing youth programs and services to identify barriers that stand between youth, healthy food choices and an active lifestyle.

Once barriers are identified, the goal will focus on developing strategies to encourage youth to choose a lifestyle that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and physical activity.

And, while Kidd is providing leadership for the study, she and the research team will work with nutrition researchers from Ohio and South Dakota to establish a "clearer picture of kids' food choices and barriers to healthy choices."

"We can't choose the foods for them, but we can provide resources to encourage choosing a variety of foods that contribute to health, and offer ideas for overcoming barriers that make choosing healthy foods difficult," Kidd said.

The grant plan calls for each of the participating states to choose two communities with similar demographics, which, in this case is limited-resource minority families who may be more likely to face increased nutrition and health risks.

Kidd has hired Erika Bono to work as the grant project coordinator. Both are registered dietitians.

Communities across each state were invited to apply to participate in the research project.

According to Bono, the applications were screened, and the names of qualifying communities in each state were randomly selected as an "intervention," or "control," community.

An unexpected cultural component of the selected communities has enhanced the grant, said Kidd, who reported that the two communities in Kansas are largely Hispanic; the Ohio communities are largely African-American, and South Dakota communities largely Native American.

"We know that cultural differences can be part of this issue, and we are delighted to be working with these communities," Kidd said.

The intervention and control communities qualify to receive grant funding of $5,000 to apply to health-based initiatives in each of four remaining years of the grant for a total of $20,000.

Their approaches will, however, be different, said Kidd, who explained that the intervention community will be working side-by-side with the research team to improve youth and community health, while the control community will work independently to meet the needs in their community.

The research process will include focus groups that will be conducted to help researchers assess a variety of issues and circumstances within the intervention community.

Kidd and the research team will investigate environmental barriers, such as the availability of food, location of grocery and convenience stores, and opportunities to participate in activities promoting physical activity, such as: Are there sidewalks in their neighborhood? Is there a park with recreational opportunities? Is it safe for youth to take advantage of the opportunities?

"We'll be watching the path that each community takes to engage youth in making healthy choices that will improve the quality of their life now — and in the future," Kidd said.

"The goal is wellness. We want youth to see the successes (health benefits) of their decisions and behaviors, and develop a healthier lifestyle that will be sustainable," Bono said.

According to Kidd, youth — and communities — will benefit.

For more information on the grant or grant progress, contact Kidd, (785) 532-0154, or Bono, (785) 532-0172 at Kansas State University.

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