Primary Project 1

“Informing Policies to Address Childhood Obesity: A Systems Approach”


Project Leader:

Mike Thomsen, PhD
Professor
Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness
University of Arkansas


Mentor(s):

Kevin Fitzpatrick, PhD
Jones Chair in Community
University Professor
Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice
University of Arkansas

Rodolfo Nayga, PhD
Tyson Chair in Food Policy Economics
Distinguished Professor
Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness
University of Arkansas

Dr. Thomsen 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.

 

Primary Project 2

“Breakfast, Energy Metabolism, Protein Turnover, and Skeletal Muscle Health in Children”


Project Leader:

Jamie Baum, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Nutrition
Division of Agriculture
University of Arkansas


Mentor(s):

Kevin Fitzpatrick, PhD
Jones Chair in Community
University Professor
Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice
University of Arkansas

Robert Wolfe, PhD
Director, Center for Translational Research in Aging & Longevity
Jane and Ed Warmack Chair in Nutritional Longevity
Professor
Department of Geriatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences


Dr. Baum 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.

 

Primary Project 3

“Assessment of Oxidative Capacity in Obese Children”


Project Leader:

Eugenia Carvalho, PhD, MSc
Instructor
Department of Geriatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences


Mentor(s):

Robert Wolfe, PhD
Director, Center for Translational Research in Aging & Longevity
Jane and Ed Warmack Chair in Nutritional Longevity
Professor
Department of Geriatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences


Dr. Carvalho 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.

Pilot Study 1

“Probiotic Supplementation in Obese Pregnant Women – A Feasibility Study”

 

Project Leader:

Eva Diaz, M.D.
Instructor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Mentor(s):

Aline Andres, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Clinical Research
Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
Associate Professor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences


Kartik Shankar, Ph.D., DABT
Associate Director for Basic Research, Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
Associate Professor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Dr. Diaz 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.

Pilot Study 2

“FGF-21: An Adjunct Biomarker for Early Detection of NAFLD in Children”

 

Project Leader:

Emir Tas, M.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

 

Mentor(s):

Radhika Muzumdar, M.D.
Chief, Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Cell Biology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Miriam Vos, M.D. MSPH
Associate Professor
Department of Pediatrics
Emory University School of Medicine
Director, Mason Transplant and Wellness
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Dr. Tas 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.

Pilot Study 3

“Determining the Effect of Maternal Obesity on Offspring Cardiovascular Health”

 

Project Leader:

Keshari Thakali, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatrics, Section of developmental Nutrition
College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

 

Mentor(s):

Aline Andres, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Clinical Research
Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
Associate Professor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Kartik Shankar, Ph.D., DABT
Associate Director for Basic Research, Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
Associate Professor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Dr. Thakali will study how maternal obesity affects the cardiovascular function of children. Maternal obesity increases offspring risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The project will look at blood vessel function in 5 year old boys and girls from mothers who were either lean or obese before and during pregnancy using ultrasound technology. The long-term goal is to determine if there are any maternal interventions during pregnancy that can offset the negative effects of maternal obesity of offspring cardiovascular health.

Pilot Study 4

“Supporting Implementation of Obesity Prevention Practices in Childcare”

 

Project Leader:

Taren Swindle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Family and Preventive Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Dr. Swindle will study the comparative effect of two implementation approaches for an obesity prevention intervention in childcare. One approach will be consistent with the standard in the field, a day of training for educators and monthly reminder newsletter. An enhanced implementation approach will include stakeholder-selected strategies to support implementation throughout the school year. This pilot project, building on funded K01DK110141, will support analytic enhancements for soliciting stakeholder input and expand the trial to include all classrooms at the partner agency.

Affiliated Project 1

“Relating Families’ History of Food Pantry Use to Children’s Obesity Status”

 

Project Leader:

Chris Long, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences – NW

Mentor(s):

Pearl McElfish, PhD
Associate Vice Chancellor - NWA
Director, Office of Community Health and Research
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences – NW

Rodolfo Nayga, PhD
Tyson Chair in Food Policy Economics
Distinguished Professor
Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness
University of Arkansas

Dr. Long will look deeper into the barriers to distribution of healthy foods in food pantries and how food from these pantries fits into the overall diets of families that visit them. The idea behind the project is that many food insecure children are often overweight or obese because the diets of food insecure families do not fit nutritional guidelines and pantries struggle to provide sufficient quantities of nutritious food. The long-term goal is to develop and test strategies using the data gathered from food pantries in northwest Arkansas to reduce the rates of obesity among food insecure children.

 

Affiliated Project 2

“Establishing the Presence of Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Oxidative Stress in Childhood Obesity”

 

Project Leader:

Shannon Rose, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

While mounting evidence supports a role for dysfunctional mitochondria in obesity in adults, there is a major research gap regarding the status of mitochondrial function in childhood obesity and its role in the development of type 2 diabetes in children. Dr. Rose will study whether circulating cell bioenergetics are impaired and whether plasma glutathione-mediated redox/antioxidant capacity is decreased in obese insulin resistant children as compared to normal weight and obese insulin sensitive children. She will also examine whether resting energy expenditure and whole body fatty acid oxidation are decreased in obese insulin resistant as compared to lean and obese insulin sensitive children and whether resting energy expenditure and whole body fatty acid oxidation are correlated with circulating cell bioenergetics.

Support Core Project 1

“Methods to Detect and Eliminate Outliers in Childhood Obesity Data”

Project Leader:

Mallik Rettiganti, PhD

Dr. Rettiganti 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.