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Parenting, Energy Dynamics, and Lifestyle Determinants of Childhood Obesity: New Directions in Prevention

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Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Sponsoring Unit(s): 
Department of Project: 
Department of Nutrition
Project Description: 

Over the past 30 years obesity rates have doubled for young children (6-11 year olds) and quadrupled for adolescents (12-19 years) to 18% and 21%, respectively, with the latest figures indicating more than a third of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese. These obese children are more likely to become obese adults and are at increased risk for developing health conditions normally seen in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Although all races and ethnicities have been affected by the obesity epidemic, some races have been impacted more than others. Obesity rates are much higher in the Latino and black populations than in the white, for both male and female adults.

Obesity is also higher among black and Latino children compared to their white peers, regardless of gender and age (ranging from preschoolers to adolescents). On an alarming note, research now shows that overweight and obesity exist in very young children. This suggests that how a child is fed early in life is important in preventing childhood obesity. Currently, the scientific evidence suggests that childhood obesity is due to a complex relationship between genes, behavior and the environment, however, the fast rise of the obesity epidemic implies a significant influence of environmental factors. One such environmental influence is in the area of infant feeding.

Breastfeeding is now recognized as the optimal feeding for healthy child development, including in the prevention of childhood obesity.  Fast weight gain of infants is found to increase the risk of overweight and obesity as the child develops.  Breastfeeding seems to protect children from obesity, some of the reasons of why this happens are due to breastfed infants gaining weight at a slower rate and having less body fat. The health promoting benefits of breastfeeding have lead to Healthy People 2020 identifying promotion and support of breastfeeding as an important public health priority, especially in racial/ethnic and low income populations that are most vulnerable to health disparities. In the U.S., there are big differences in who breastfeeds. African American newborns are consistently found to be the least likely infants to be ever breastfed and to breastfeed exclusively. When these infants are breastfed, they are breastfed for shorter lengths of time.  Since infant feeding practices are behaviors that can be a modified for the prevention of overweight/obesity; and that AA women are at an increased risk of not breastfeeding, the improvement of breastfeeding initiation and duration rates in this population is an important intervention to prevent obesity prevention among AA children.  The purpose of this study is to examine the attitudes, beliefs, motivation, practices and experiences of African American women

who have breastfed for less than and those who have done so for over 3 months duration. We are interested in knowing what influences at the individual, family and systemic levels, acted as barriers and facilitators for successful breastfeeding.  The outcome of this study will guide the development, implementation and evaluation of an intervention that takes a community based participatory research (CBPR) to increase sustained breastfeeding by AA women in Springfield.  The proposed research has direct implications for women, infant and child health, especially for racial and ethnic minorities.

Understanding the facilitators of breastfeeding behavior among vulnerable subpopulation groups provides strategies for closing the gap on health disparities experienced by these families. Creating environments that promote and support a breastfeeding culture among black women, facilitates the return of a valuable family practice that has been lost over time in the AA community.  As women and children (and men in their lives) realize the health benefits associated with extended breastfeeding, the potential of influencing families in other communities will be significant.

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