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Feb. 11, 2003 -- No. 84
Photo note: To download a photo of Bentley, see the end of the release.
School receives grant to examine factors that may influence infant overfeeding and weight gain
By WENDY TANSON
School of Public Health
CHAPEL HILL -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health has received a $2.5 million, five-year grant to examine potential risk factors during the first two years of life for development of overweight and pediatric obesity.
Support for the study is provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a component of the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Margaret Bentley, professor in the department of nutrition (jointly housed in the schools of public health and medicine) and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center, is the projectís principal investigator.
"Most of the literature on pediatric obesity risk begins when children are 3 to 5 years old or in school, when diet and activity patterns have already been established and when children may already be overweight or at risk of obesity," Bentley said.
"Thereís a huge gap in knowledge concerning whatís going on during the first two years of life that may set the stage for poor diet or inactivity later in childhood. This is particularly relevant for populations with a high prevalence of parental obesity."
To address this gap, she said, researchers will examine household and environmental factors such as family dynamics and parenting, feeding and activity patterns and cultural beliefs that may contribute to infant dietary intake and weight gain.
"We are particularly interested in understanding how infant feeding practices influence diet and growth, including the mode of feeding that mothers and other caregivers use, when and why they introduce fluids and foods that are high in salt, fat or sugar and other related behaviors," she said
"By so doing, we can determine if parental feeding styles in high-risk populations influence inappropriate infant diets or overfeeding and risk of overweight or fatness among infants."
The study will be conducted among black mothers and infants in North Carolina, a group at high risk for obesity. Bentley and colleagues will measure the impact of activities in the household as diverse as television watching and the use of playpens and baby swings.
An interdisciplinary team of researchers, including experts in anthropology, nutrition, epidemiology, developmental psychology, pediatrics and statistics will participate in the study.
"The breadth of disciplines present in our research team will allow us to approach this issue from a big-picture perspective, so we can untangle the clusters of environmental and behavioral variables that we believe represent risk of obesity in our youngest children," Bentley said.
Co-investigators, all at UNC, are Dr. Linda Adair, professor of nutrition, and Dr. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, assistant professor of maternal and child health and of nutrition, both at the School of Public Health; Dr. Lorraine Taylor, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Barbara Goldman, research assistant professor of psychology and coordinator of the infant learning and assessment lab at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.
Dr. Chirayath Suchindran, professor of biostatistics in the School of Public Health, will provide statistical consultation.
The first phase of the study began in July 2002, with in-depth interviews and observations among a small number of households. These initial data are being used to refine the studyís hypotheses, better define potential risk factors and elicit cultural beliefs related to infant care and feeding.
In summer 2003, the observational study will begin with the incremental recruitment of about 200 mother-infant pairs, who will be assessed in their home environments when the children are 3, 6, 9 12 and 18 months of age.
"We need to understand much more about whether any of these early child parenting, feeding and environmental factors actually increase the risk of pediatric obesity, so that they may be incorporated into programs and policy initiatives," Bentley said.
"We believe our study will provide fresh insights into a public health problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and provide the basis for prevention efforts that give our youngest children a healthy start in life, setting the stage for lifetime habits of proper diet and activity."
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Photo url: http://www.unc.edu/news/pics/faculty/bentley_margaret.jpg
Note: Bentley can be reached at (919) 966-9575 or email@example.com. Adair can be reached at (919) 966-4449 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Siega-Riz can be reached at (919) 962-8410 or email@example.com.
UNC School of Public Health contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 966-7467 or firstname.lastname@example.org
UNC News Services contact: Deb Saine, (919) 962-8415