The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health’s Obesity Research Project is studying the effects of prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in air on child growth trajectories and obesity risk through age 18. The Center has been following a cohort of mothers and their children since each mother was in her third trimester of pregnancy and has collected measures of height and weight from the children throughout their childhood and adolescence. The research team hypothesizes that prenatal PAH exposures adversely affect the development of emotional self-regulation during childhood, which in turn adversely affects eating patterns and engagement in physical activity, placing the child at risk for obesity. The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health is led by Dr. Frederica Perera, professor of environmental health sciences; and the Obesity Research Project is led by Dr. Andrew Rundle, associate professor of epidemiology.
Interdisciplinary Built Environment and Health Research Group
In collaboration with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Rundle and colleagues examined the relationship between residential neighborhood environments and diabetes patient’s ability to control their blood glucose. Using data from the New York City Hemoglobin A1C registry, they found that over a seven-year period living in an area with more advantaged socioeconomic conditions, greater ratio of healthy food outlets to unhealthy food outlets, and higher residential walkability was associated with better glycemic control. Also they found that diabetes patients who moved from a less advantaged to a more advantaged residential area achieved better glycemic control.
Profiles of Participation in WIC
A team of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and New York State Department of Health researchers, led by Dr. Sally Findley, Mailman School professor of population and family health and professor of sociomedical sciences, conducted random surveys of women with children eligible to participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in 2009 – 10 and in 2013 – 14. They assessed changes in early childhood obesity and obesity prevention behaviors before and five years after the introduction of nationally mandated changes in the WIC program recommendations and report the following: There were significant increases in several of the healthy lifestyle behaviors promoted by WIC: “ever breastfeeding” and breastfeeding for at least four months, consumption of low/non-fat milk among children age 2 and above, and daily consumption of 100 percent juice, vegetables, and whole grains all increased significantly between 2009 – 10 and 2013 – 14. Consumption of sugary drinks and sweets declined. Along with these changes in diet and others in outdoor play and television viewing, significantly more children in 2013 -14 were in the normal range (from 64 percent to 72 percent), coupled with a shift downward in the proportion obese from 24 percent to 13 percent. The 2013 – 14 survey included a subsample of women whose children were eligible for but not currently in WIC. Children whose mothers were never in WIC had significantly lower levels of adoption of the recommended eating or activity patterns.
The Mailman School’s student group, Food Policy and Obesity Prevention (FPOP), works to bring greater awareness to various food policy and nutrition issues within both the Mailman School and the greater Washington Heights community. FPOP events allow participants the opportunity to make connections between how policy informs health, including rates of obesity and comorbidities. Efforts have included volunteering with food organizations around New York City, screening thought-provoking documentaries, and bringing together professionals working on obesity from different perspectives. FPOP also plans on holding an event focusing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program to spark a conversation about food assistance and the correlations between food policy and increased obesity rates in lower-income communities.