Researchers at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of clinical and health psychology are conducting a number of behavioral intervention studies to address pediatric obesity and comorbid conditions.
The UF Pediatric Sleep Study, led by Dr. David Janicke, the department’s interim chair and an associate professor, and Dr. Christina McCrae, a professor and chair of the department of health psychology at the University of Missouri, is designed to help children who are overweight and having sleep problems improve their sleep through behavioral strategies, rather than medication, medical devices or surgical procedures. Inadequate sleep and weight problems in children are closely linked, with an estimated 60 to 90 percent of children who have shortened or disrupted sleep being at increased risk for obesity.
While the exact reasons for the association between sleep problems and obesity are not well understand, experts believe that the behavioral and physiological changes associated with inadequate sleep play a role in weight gain. Children who are tired may not have the energy to be physically active, for example, and research has shown that too little sleep can cause the body to produce lower levels of the hormone that regulates appetite.
In a study led by Dr. David Fedele, an assistant professor in the department of clinical and health psychology, researchers are conducting a pilot study that aims to develop and test a behavioral weight-management program for young children who have asthma and are overweight or obese. Asthma can be particularly problematic for children who are overweight, leading to increased medication use, more emergency room visits and lower quality of life than peers with asthma who are not overweight.
Children in the UF Childhood Health and Asthma Management Program (CHAMP) participate in group sessions that feature games to teach children about growing healthy and strong, samples of tasty and nutritious foods, and tips for preventing and coping with asthma symptoms. Parents build strategies to provide and encourage a healthy eating environment, increase physical activity for the family, and better manage their child’s asthma. Researchers also address barriers to weight management in children with asthma, such as the perception that physical activity is dangerous for children with asthma.