Research assessing obesity in rural preschoolers

December 11, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A five-year, multistate study involving Purdue Extension is aiming to find causes and preventions for childhood obesity in low-income preschoolers in rural communities, including two Indiana counties.

The study, "Communities Preventing Childhood Obesity," helps community health coalitions to identify and correct problems that could be contributing to childhood obesity, such as lack of easily accessible playgrounds or grocery stores. The project, led by Kansas State University and funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, involves two counties each from Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The project began in March 2011 and will end in March 2016.

"The structure of this study is a model that includes the whole community," said Angie Abbott, assistant director for Purdue Extension in the College of Health and Human Sciences. "It takes the individual, the family and the environment we live in to make a change. It's great if I, as an individual, say that I want to eat more fruits and vegetables. But if I live in an area where fresh fruits and vegetables aren't available, then I won't be able to meet my goal despite my good intentions."

Adams and Henry counties in Indiana were chosen to participate in the project after completing an application that assessed their community health coalitions' connection with local neighborhoods and ability to effect change in their areas.

The counties' health coalitions are using a combination of observation, written assessments and parent surveys to form a comprehensive picture of what improvements their communities need. Once the assessments are complete, the coalitions will implement programs to address these needs. If they wish, they can choose from a list of research-based programs compiled by a team of faculty and graduate students working with the main research team. Evaluations at the end of the five years will assess the effectiveness of each county's programs.

"This is one of the great things about this project - this is completely a community decision made by local boards," Abbott said. "We do ask them to decide what needs to be done and come up with a plan to do it, but we do not interfere in that decision at all."

An additional portion of the study involves testing the effectiveness of a community coach in helping the county implement these programs. One county in each state has received a coach who guides the community through the assessment, planning and enactment phases of the project. At the end of the five years, the research investigators will compare data from each county to determine best practices for implementing positive change in the community.

"Obesity is a national concern and, as such, is a high priority for both Purdue Extension and health organizations around the world," Abbott said. "It has a huge social impact, and there are huge needs in our Indiana communities that we hope to meet through the results of this study."

Writer: Jessica Merzdorf, 765-494-8402,

Source: Angie Abbott, 765-494-8252,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson,
Agriculture News Page

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