URBANA, Ill. – Exploring how multiple factors contribute to the development of childhood obesity, the Family Resiliency Center’s STRONG Kids Program recently received an additional $548,275 of funding from the National Dairy Council (NDC) to extend its current research project, STRONG Kids 2, through 2019.
STRONG Kids 2 is one of the first comprehensive research projects to explore how individual biology and dietary habits, including milk and dairy consumption, interact with the family environment to provide unique insights into the underlying causes behind childhood obesity. Originally, project participants were to be observed from birth to three years of age. The increased support from the NDC allows researchers to follow participants until they reach five years of age—a critical point for children as they become more vocal about their food preferences and spend more time in out-of-home care.
The increased observational time will be critical in providing a clearer picture of early childhood health. “We are already seeing important shifts in growth during the first year of life in this group of infants,” says the program’s co-director Barbara H. Fiese. “Being able to track these patterns into the preschool years will allow us to identify potential points of intervention to protect children against unhealthy weight in the early years. We are tracking the importance of breastfeeding, timing of introduction of solids, presence of dairy, and good sleep habits as predictors of healthy outcomes for these children. Being able to do so for five years is quite remarkable.”
The additional support has also allowed researchers to expand recruitment to ensure enough families are retained over the length of the study. The expansion of the participant pool and the length of time they are involved in the project is significant according to co-director Sharon Donovan. “Being able to expand the cohort and the length of the time that we are obtaining data are both important because they will ensure that we have sufficient statistical power to examine health and dietary changes over time a time,” Donovan says, “and we will be able to follow the children as they are transitioning from preschool or home to school.”
Project staff has worked hard over the past three years to recruit a cohort of expectant mothers throughout central Illinois to participate in the project. At present, the project has passed its recruitment goal of 450 participating families.
Over the course of the study, biological samples and measurements are collected from this cohort at intervals, and mothers are surveyed about weaning, dietary habits, and household routines, as well as children’s emotions, feeding styles, and milk and dairy consumption. The new funding allows researchers to enhance these measurements through added questionnaires and home observations to ensure they have a clearer picture of dietary intake. Says Donovan, “We’re able to add more home observations and 24-hour dietary recall measures, which will complement and extend upon the current measures of dietary intake in the cohort.”
Ultimately, the findings from STRONG Kids 2 will serve as the foundation for obesity prevention and intervention programs throughout the country.