The Stanford University School of Medicine has won $12.7 million in federal funds to design a new approach to battling childhood obesity that could be used across the country.
The grant will allow researchers to test a behavioral and environmental approach to childhood weight control –- using soccer teams and dance classes, for example -– rather than a traditional medical model.
The funds are part of the National Institutes of Health's $49.5 million Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Program, with other grants going to Case Western Reserve University, the University of Minnesota and Vanderbilt University.
"Traditional medical care doesn't address obesity particularly well," said Thomas Robinson, professor of child health, pediatrics and medicine at the medical school.
"It's geared toward the medical aspects of the problem, not its behavioral or environmental components. This grant is an opportunity to say, 'What if we start from scratch with a new model?
"'How would we build a treatment program that uses existing resources in the medical care system, the community and families to approach childhood obesity?'"
Robinson directs the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Its intensive, six-month pediatric weight-control program has resulted in success for 80 percent of participants, according to officials.
"Our study will test a very exciting new model for treating overweight and obese kids," Robinson said. "Currently, most communities have few resources to help these children and their families."
The study will incorporate strategies developed in some of Robinson's previous research on ways to make weight control fun. For instance, overweight children enjoy and benefit from soccer teams and dance classes organized just for them, his team has found, even if they feel too self-conscious to participate in physical activities with normal-weight peers.
"We've found that kids are intrinsically motivated to adopt healthful behaviors when the change is fun, gives them a sense of choice and control and provides challenges and a sense of accomplishment," Robinson said. "We're building upon those findings for our new program."
In the new study, overweight and obese children will get diagnostic evaluations and medical attention from their existing primary care providers; learn healthy eating and exercise habits in specially designed community after-school programs; and receive home visits to make their living spaces conducive to weight loss. After two years of development and pilot tests, the researchers will test the program with 240 obese 7- to 12-year-olds and their families. Each family will receive treatment for three years. Half will receive the new treatment program; the remaining participants will receive standard-of-care treatment plus an after-school program. The analysis will include evaluation of the program's cost-effectiveness. It will be one of the longest and largest studies ever conducted on childhood obesity treatment.
"It's a really unusual opportunity to receive this much funding and time to develop and test a new model of care," Robinson said. "We're very excited that we will get to extend the capabilities of primary care professionals, leverage community resource and provide individualized family- and home-based services where kids live."