The United States Department of Agriculture has awarded researchers at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences a $1.4 million grant to find out why Arkansans are among the fattest people in the nation. (In fact, our adults are the fattest in the U.S., says a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report on obesity in Arkansas.)
We can answer some of these questions for free. Is cheap food fattening? Yes, and we eat cheap food because we’re a poor state. Do we eat too much fast food? Yes, because chain restaurants proliferate in places where people have no other options. Do we exercise enough? No. Schools don’t include recess anymore, older kids have cars, parents don’t let their children run free anymore, the heavier you are the harder it is to exercise and it’s too damn hot in summer.
But the grant will take what is assumed and document it. From a news release:
The “Arkansas Active Kids!” study, funded through the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, will include two phases over four years. First, researchers will analyze existing datasets from the National Survey of Children’s Health and The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to see what environmental factors predispose Arkansans to obesity and suggest how those can be modified. They’ll be looking for sociodemographic and environmental characteristics that affect children’s activity and fitness levels.
“We want to know, when we look at Arkansas alone, or when we look at the Delta region of the U.S. alone, does that picture look different from the national picture?” said the study’s principal investigator, Judith Weber, RD, PhD, director of ACRI’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Research Program and a professor of Pediatrics at UAMS. “Is there something unique about Arkansas? We’re going to look at those environmental and behavioral factors and then delve more into the metabolic and physiological aspects.”
A survey of parents of 200 children between the ages of 7 and 10 will be developed and administered, and children will be tested for fitness at Children’s. They will also wear devices to measure their activity and sleep patterns for a week. Elisabet Borsheim, Ph.D, director of Children’s Nutrition Center, will be co-investigator with Weber.
“You can’t change genetics, but you can change behaviors,” Weber says in the news release. “We want to see if living in a rural environment is really more of a risk factor, and if these families had better access to sidewalks, parks or school gymnasiums, if it would make them healthier and more physically fit.” Researchers hope the results will help change behaviors and access.