Childhood Obesity Study Makes Weight Loss a Family Matter

Jun. 22, 2018
Local researchers receive $3.1M as part of national, four-site effort
A family out for a walk.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) are joining those from three other organizations on one of the largest family-based childhood obesity studies ever conducted in the hopes of combating what has become a national epidemic. In the United States, one in five children and one in three adults are considered obese.  

The $13.9 million study, funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), encourages overweight parents to attempt to lose weight themselves in addition to assisting with their child’s nutrition and physical activity goals. In previous smaller studies, this approach has reduced obesity in children and has seen parents lose an average of 15 to 20 pounds.

“While tracking the child’s behavior, we also work on setting goals for the parents as well,” said Stephen Cook, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at URMC. “When father and daughter, or mother and son, are working together toward the same goal — eating more fruits and vegetables together, exercising together — they tend to have much more success.”

Steve Cook

The study also includes researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, which is serving as the lead institution; the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.; and the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight in Itasca, Ill. In total, the study is aiming to enroll 1296 parent-child pairs nationally; for its part, URMC will receive $3.1 million and aims to enroll 432 families in the Rochester area.

Cook’s team will work with pediatricians in several local pediatric practices. Participants will receive 12 months of family-based treatment, which will encourage parents to become active participants, setting weight loss goals for themselves, as well as eating and activity targets for their children. The program is designed to help parents and children make lasting changes in eating and activity habits, while teaching positive parenting techniques. Enrollment is expected to begin in Fall 2019.

The project also includes advisory boards of both parents and teenagers, and researchers are also engaging insurance companies and Medicaid to advise how these programs could be financed in the future. Partners from each of the participating clinical locations nationally have contributed members to each of these boards.

The research builds on Cook’s past work, as he has several current and previous studies that engage with both parents and children in an effort to reduce childhood obesity.

The project is one of several funded by PCORI, which supports research to provide patients, caregivers, and clinicians that can be used to make better decisions about health care.

“This project was selected not only for its scientific merit and commitment to engaging patients and other health-care stakeholders in a major study conducted in a real-world setting, but also for its potential to answer important questions about childhood obesity and to fill a crucial evidence gap,” said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, M.D. “We look forward to following the study’s progress and working with the researchers to share the results.”