LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Oct. 25, 2017) – Six early-career scientists have joined the Arkansas Children's Research Institute's (ACRI) Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention, as the program announces its first wave of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded projects to help make children better today and healthier tomorrow.

These investigators are part of a nationally regarded research program making strides in addressing obesity across the nation.

“These first six projects reflect the mission of the Center to examine and address issues related to childhood obesity at all levels, including developmental causes, therapeutic treatments, and translation of findings directly to children and their families wherever they reside in Arkansas” said Dr. Judith Weber, director of the multidisciplinary center and professor of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

The Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention was established in 2016 with a $9.4 million NIH Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant award to ACRI.  The grant is part of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program aimed at building research capacities in states that have historically had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research. COBRE programs focus on creating thriving research programs with some of the nation's most promising young scientists, supporting basic, clinical and infrastructure improvements.

The six projects include:

  • Informing policies to address obesity: a systems approach – Michael R. Thomsen, PhD, of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, will study how policy can improve childhood-obesity prevention efforts using a systems-based approach. This project will capitalize on Arkansas' unique 12-year longitudinal school-based body mass index (BMI) dataset, allowing researchers to track childhood weight status from kindergarten through 10th grade. His team will study how children's proximity to food stores, restaurants and playgrounds affect obesity, while also examining the effectiveness of existing school-based interventions.
  • Breakfast, energy metabolism and skeletal muscle health in children – Jamie I. Baum, PhD, of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Department of Food Science, will determine if eating breakfast proteins improves metabolism, energy balance and skeletal muscle health in obese school-age children. The project's foundation lies in the concept that obesity is primarily caused by a mismatch in energy intake and energy expenditure. Researchers will test whether increasing dietary protein intake at breakfast will improve whole-body energy metabolism and give children better energy balance.
  • Assessment of oxidative capacity in obese children – Eugenia Carvalho, PhD, of the UAMS Department of Geriatrics, will look at the underlying metabolism and physiology of obesity in children to identify new markers to target therapies for children who face the highest risk for obesity. The project will be the first to evaluate obese prepubertal children to find metabolic parameters that can be used to better understand the pathophysiology behind obesity and insulin resistance in children. The research aims to see whether the proposed markers can be useful in predicting type 2 diabetes development.
  • Probiotic supplementation in obese pregnant women - A feasibility study – Eva Diaz, MD, of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, will determine the acceptance and compliance associated with a long-term probiotic supplementation in obese pregnant women. The project focuses on the critical period of pregnancy as the first opportunity to intervene to prevent childhood obesity. It has been demonstrated that probiotic intervention during pregnancy can improve maternal metabolism, thereby reducing offspring risk for obesity.
  • FGF-21: An adjunct biomarker for early detection of NAFLD in children – Emir Tas, MD, of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, will assess the utility of a single blood test to identify pubertal children at risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver disease occurs when there is too much fat accumulation in the liver. In the beginning, the disease is reversible, but ultimately can lead to permanent and irreversible liver damage if it is not recognized and treated early. Obesity is the leading cause of NAFLD, and the elucidation of an early biomarker (blood test) could help identify children who need to be treated more aggressively earlier to avoid development of the disease.
  • Methods to detect and eliminate outliers in childhood obesity data – Mallik Rettiganti, PhD, of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, will look at the challenges that come from longitudinal studies, with one major issue being the presence of outlying observations. Outlying observations are those data points that deviate from the rest of the data. These observations can cause incorrect conclusions if they are not properly accounted for. The project will evaluate methods to detect outliers in longitudinal studies in the field of obesity research through systematic examination of Arkansas’ 12-year longitudinal BMI database.

About Arkansas Children’s

Arkansas Children's, Inc. is the only healthcare system in the state solely dedicated to caring for Arkansas' 710,000 children, giving the organization a unique ability to shape the landscape of pediatric care in Arkansas and transform the health of children throughout the region. The private, non-profit organization includes two pediatric hospitals, a pediatric research institute and USDA nutrition center, a philanthropic foundation, a nursery alliance, statewide clinics, and many education and outreach programs.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) is a 336-bed, Magnet-recognized facility in Little Rock operating the state’s only Level I pediatric trauma center; the state's only burn center; the state's only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit; the state's only pediatric intensive care unit; the state’s only pediatric surgery program with Level 1 verification from the American College of Surgeons; and the state's only nationally recognized pediatric transport program. Additionally, ACH is nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report in five pediatric subspecialties (2019-2020): Cardiology & Heart Surgery, Nephrology, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Orthopedics and Pulmonology. Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW), the first and only pediatric hospital in the Northwest Arkansas region, opened in Springdale in early 2018. ACNW operates a 24-bed inpatient unit; a surgical unit with five operating rooms; outpatient clinics offering over 20 subspecialties; diagnostic services; imaging capabilities; occupational therapy services; and Northwest Arkansas' only pediatric emergency department, equipped with 30 exam rooms. Generous philanthropic and volunteer engagement has sustained Arkansas Children's since it began as an orphanage in 1912, and today ensures the system can fundamentally transform the health of children in Arkansas and beyond. To learn more, visit

About Arkansas Children’s Research Institute

ACRI is a free-standing state-of-the-art pediatric research center which provides a research environment on the ACH campus to foster research and scholarship of faculty members of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who are investigating questions relative to development, disease and treatment as it relates to the health of infants, children and adolescents. Physician and biomedical scientist investigators at ACRI and the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC) conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses and preventing disease and thereby, improving the health of the children of Arkansas and beyond.

About UAMS

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report named UAMS Medical Center the state’s Best Hospital; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide; and named six areas as high performing — cancer, colon cancer surgery, heart failure, hip replacement, knee replacement and lung cancer surgery. UAMS has 2,727 students, 870 medical residents and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.