Obesity Research

Obesity and Health Transitions in School Children: Assessment and Intervention

In 2005, in collaboration with the Binghamton and Johnson City school districts and the Broome County Health Department, the Graduate Program in Biomedical Anthropology's local Health Transition Project was initiated. The project was led by Marc Lichtenfeld, our field director and doctoral candidate, and was aided by 11 graduate students, (Heather Worne, Sarah Walker, Amanda Tavares, Dan Lynch, Chim Chan, Sarah Sunderman, Laura Soloway, Kelsey Needham, Deanne Gebo, Carolyn Arber, Ashanti Moore) and four undergraduate students (Anar Patel, Joel Espinosa, Amanda Ruff, Michael Wlodarski). Under the guidance of Professors Ralph Garruto and Michael Little in collaboration with the Broome County Health Department (Claudia Edwards, director) the research team measured and interviewed 750 sixth-grade school children to help identify factors associated with the changing prevalence of overweight and obesity in semi-rural, multi-ethnic small city settings.

We believe that the levels of child obesity seen in children are a result of changing lifestyles associated with diet and activity levels and are preventable in the future through intervention and prevention programs tailored to local children.

Our specific aims for this project were:
to determine the prevalence rate of childhood obesity in three Broome County middle schools;
to identify and characterize the specific factors associated with the prevalence of obesity;
to develop an action-based pilot intervention and prevention strategy and program; and
to longitudinally re-evaluate the health and wellness of the children and assess the effectiveness of the intervention and prevention plan.
The methods used included: Anthropometry (BMI, bioelectrical impedance analysis, waist, hip and middle upper arm circumference and tricep skinfold thickness), one-on-one interviews about diet, physical activity and ethnicity, and observations of school meal behaviors.

We expected that the overall prevalence rates of childhood overweight and obesity to be reflective of the upstate New York prevalence of 21 percent. However, our preliminary results show that the scope of the problem was drastically underestimated in this population, as nearly two-thirds of the children are either overweight or obese using BMI.

Further data analyses are underway and future research designs, including a re-measure of sixth -rade children and a longitudinal follow-up of former sixth-grade children when they enter ninth grade, are being developed in order to re-evaluate intervention and prevention plans currently underway.