Improving Research on Childhood Obesity

Field of Work: Statistical support for research on the causes, prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

Problem Synopsis: The Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders houses several large studies of child and adolescent obesity. The studies are funded by federal grants, which support only limited statistical analysis. Inadequate statistical oversight of multiple studies hinders the quality, breadth and productivity of the research effort.

Synopsis of the Work: The Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania integrated a senior statistician into its Center for Weight and Eating Disorder research team.

Key Results

The statistician applied an improved methodology for analyzing longitudinal data from the center’s Infant Growth Study to explore new research topics. She then co-authored eight articles on childhood and adolescent obesity based on this and other research, published in medical journals.

Key Findings

Findings from these studies supported other research showing that genetics—particularly maternal body mass index—is a strong predictor of obesity in children. However, the center’s studies also suggest that environmental factors can counteract a genetic predisposition to obesity in children.

For example, these researchers found that rapid eating style—measured by mouthfuls and caloric intake per minute—is a significant predictor of obesity among young children born with a high-risk of obesity. The researchers concluded that encouraging children to eat more slowly could help prevent obesity.