Kansas University MC researcher studies childhood obesity in rural Kansas

Kansas City 11 April 2005According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one third of adults in the United States are considered obese and more than half of adults are at weights that adversely affect their health. Children, even those in rural Kansas, haven't managed to escape this growing problem either. However, a University of Kansas School of Medicine professor is starting her research career trying to determine a way to help rural children have better health habits. The professor will use telemedicine to conduct most of her research and to implement intervention methods in rural Kansas.


Ann McGrath Davis, PhD, assistant professor of Paediatrics, became interested in paediatric obesity through her work with children with other chronic health conditions, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. "Through my research I learned that children with obesity face many of the same challenges as children with other chronic health conditions, but have access to fewer services", Ann McGrath Davis stated.

"I came back to Kansas and saw that the rural portion of the state was struggling just as much as the urban areas. And paediatric obesity is understudied in rural areas. Therefore, Kansas provides me with a unique opportunity."

According to Ann McGrath Davis, urban kids face different challenges than rural kids when dealing with habits related to obesity. On average, the body mass index (BMI), which is used to determine obesity, was the same between rural and urban children. However, activity and food consumption reports vary between the two groups. Urban children are more likely to report greater amounts of time spent on sedentary activities, like video games and television, but they are also more likely to report more time spent exercising than rural kids. Also, urban kids have a bigger responsibility when planning meals, due to the fact that urban kids eat fewer meals with their families than rural kids. Rural kids don't have as easy access to fast food, unlike their urban counterparts.

"There are no widely accepted or available intervention methods when dealing with paediatric obesity in rural areas", Ann McGrath Davis stated. "We want to look at what education parents and kids need to effectively maintain a healthy weight. We know it will vary depending on locations."

Ann McGrath Davis's mentor, Michael A. Rapoff, PhD, professor of Paediatrics and chief of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, stated: "Dr. McGrath Davis's research will provide a unique contribution to existing literature on paediatric obesity. Not much has been studied about rural pediatric obesity, especially in the area of intervention."

Ann McGrath Davis will use telemedicine to conduct most of her research and to implement intervention methods in rural Kansas. Telemedicine is a service of the University of Kansas Medical Center that has been in operation since 1991. By using interactive televideo (ITV) and state-of-the-art video production, the telemedicine programme provides rural Kansans with access to health care and health education throughout in the state. Ann McGrath Davis will use ITV at her research sites, which will be in Kansas towns with populations less than 20.000.

Ann McGrath Davis's research has the potential to help educate school nurses and local physicians about paediatric obesity and prevention. Ann McGrath Davis stated that many nurses are willing and want to help obese children, but they don't feel they have the tools to do so. By using ITV, Ann McGrath Davis can talk with school nurses and childrens' physicians to create a comprehensive intervention plan.

"Many times school nurses and local physicians won't intervene in a child's obesity problem because they haven't had training in obesity and obesity prevention", Ann McGrath Davis stated. "This programme will allow health care providers to gain that education."

Ann McGrath Davis sees a potential in expanding telemedicine services to include educating all children on a variety of health habits. "Let's face it. All children need to be educated about healthy habits so they grow up to be healthy adults", Ann McGrath Davis stated.

Ann McGrath Davis's research will be partially funded through a K23 grant she just received from the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. "Being awarded a K23 grant shows that the National Institutes of Health recognizes paediatric obesity as a national problem", Professor Rapoff stated.

Ann McGrath Davis has a background in behaviour, but to study paediatric obesity more effectively, she wants to become a "mini-expert" in preventative medicine, exercise physiology and nutrition because each are key factors of obesity. University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) professors, Jasjit Ahluwalia, MD, Joe Donnelly, PhD, and Susan Carlson, PhD, are mentoring her in those respective areas.

Leslie Versweyveld

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