Vanderbilt study to leverage IT to prevent early childhood obesity

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute has awarded $7 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to study different approaches to preventing early childhood obesity.

The randomized, multi-center trial will include 900 families to compare clinic and consumer information technology approaches to promote healthy behaviors and prevent obesity in infants and toddlers.

“Few clinical trials have addressed obesity prevention in the first years of life or have examined the effect of interventions that integrate a literacy-sensitive approach or the use of information technology to improve care,” says Russell Rothman, Ingram Professor of Integrative and Population Health and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Health Services Research. “This study design will allow us to determine whether added technology can provide support outside the clinic to promote behavior change and obesity prevention.”

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Vanderbilt Medical Center Campus photos, summer 2014 ( Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt University)

In particular, health technology such as web-based or mobile tools and text messaging will be leveraged to support families enrolled in the study for assessment outside of the clinic setting.

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Researchers will compare the effectiveness of the study’s two areas of inquiry on children’s weight status, family-reported diet and physical activity behaviors, as well as satisfaction with pediatric care through age 2. They also will assess the impact of the intervention on key groups by race, ethnicity, language proficiency and health literacy.

“In one arm of the study, during each of nine recommended well-child visits from birth to 18 months, pediatric residents trained in clear health communication and shared goal setting will use low-literacy, age-specific parent education booklets to promote healthy family behaviors and obesity prevention,” states the announcement. “In a second arm, other families will receive the same communication through a technology-assisted parent education program that includes a web/mobile platform for education and behavior change, and a text messaging strategy designed for lower socioeconomic status populations.”

According to Rothman, more than 25 percent of preschool children are overweight or obese, with higher rates among kids in low-income and minority communities.

Families will be recruited during the newborn stage at six pediatric clinics through PCORnet, the PCORI-funded National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, as well as CORNET, a national practice-based research network of pediatric residency primary care practices supported by the Academic Pediatric Association.

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