Campus: California State University, Fullerton -- November 17, 2005

Center for Prevention of Childhood Obesity Funded at Cal State Fullerton

Cal State Fullerton has received $400,000 from the Centers for Disease Control to develop an interdisciplinary center to promote obesity prevention and healthy lifestyles in children.

"Our goal will be to work with schools and communities in developing new strategies to promote children's health and reduce obesity," said Shari G. McMahan, chair and professor of health science who has been named to direct the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity.

"We also want to stimulate and support our faculty's research on children's health - especially research that addresses urgent community needs, such as incidence of diabetes and other obesity-related problems in the Latino community." said McMahan. "The center will evaluate and influence policies that affect children's physical activity and nutrition.

"In order to address the multiple issues that affect childhood obesity, we are taking a multidisciplinary approach. That means we have faculty representation from child and adolescent studies, counseling, nursing, kinesiology, health science, education, human services many disciplines to focus on a problem that has roots in multiple areas as well," she added.

"The center's activities build upon the current research, evaluation and intervention work of Cal State Fullerton faculty and community partners in Orange County," said Roberta Rikli, dean of the CSUF College of Health and Human Development, where the center is based. "More specifically, funds are being utilized for a number of different research/intervention projects involving children, parents, schools, medical clinics, and city and county agencies.

"We emphasize serving low-income, at-risk children in predominantly Hispanic communities in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and south Fullerton, where obesity rates and risks for diabetes are among the highest in the nation. Collectively, these projects address the obesity epidemic through a variety of interpersonal, behavioral and ecological models involving participants whose ages range from preschoolers through adolescents," added Rikli, noting that the center was made possible through the support of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove). Sanchez discussed the effort on the House floor in the spring of last year.

Rikli will be in San Francisco Monday to attend a meeting of the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness. The meeting will focus on defining and developing criteria on physical fitness and activity to encourage Californians to adopt new practices to enhance their health and fitness.

CSUF faculty members currently are working closely with Project ALISA - Active Living in Santa Ana - to evaluate and enhance the project's intervention strategies, noted McMahan. Although Project ALISA activities benefit the entire city, its current efforts focus on two apartment complexes on Lyon Street in Santa Ana, where researchers will evaluate their methods of helping children make healthier choices - whether it's eating, exercising or learning about the health hazards of smoking, drugs and alcohol.

"We also are working closely with local schools to plan what we call school-based interventions - that is, trying to encourage good eating habits with children while they are at school and to promote additional physical activities, " said McMahon.

"By working cooperatively with other organizations already committed to children's health, we can maximize our efforts," she said, noting existing collaborative efforts with Children's Hospital of Orange County, St. Jude Medical Center and UCI.

"One aspect of our project is to develop a referral center for children who are at risk of, or already identified, as overweight," said Cynthia S. Greenberg, associate professor of nursing. "This center will work with children and parents to gain strategies to make good food choices and increase physical activity."

Partnering with St. Jude Medical Center, members of the nursing faculty are examining school data in order to develop programs to help school-based nurses incorporate healthier lifestyle habits into the lessons they pass along to children and their families.

"Other areas of focus include working with mothers from diverse ethnic groups," said Jessica N. Gomel, assistant professor of child and adolescent studies. "Parents, and mothers in particular, make most of the decisions regarding nutrition options for their preschool children. We propose to examine the mother's decision-making process when she makes food choices her child. What mothers feed their children may shape eating habits during a sensitive period of brain development, and may have a lifelong impact on appetite regulation and fatness, as well as psychological consequences for children," said Gomel.

Earlier this summer, faculty members Leonard D. Wiersma, Clay P. Sherman and Shawn H. Dolan collaborated with Santa Ana-based Latino Health Access to conduct a 12-week physical activity and nutrition program for overweight youth. Meeting on weekends, youth participated in active recreation, nutrition education and other activities that created a connection to Cal State Fullerton. A related intervention study focused on health-related quality of life, physical fitness, nutrition assessment and psychosocial variables related to participation in physical activity.

Wiersma and Sherman have extended the program to Richman Park in Fullerton, where they will partner with St. Jude Medical Center to provide after-school physical activity for children referred by the medical center's pediatric nurses. Both projects are expected to produce research data on the role of physical activity in obesity prevention, and provide several undergraduate and graduate students with research opportunities and hands-on experience working with children, said Wiersma.

"Faculty members at the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity have developed good partnerships with community healthcare agencies, schools and hospitals in Orange County," said Jie W. Weiss, assistant professor in kinesiology and health science. "The goal has been to implement an intervention program among high-risk Latino children and to evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs."

Contact: Shari McMahan at (714) 278-7000 or
             Valerie Orleans, Public Affairs, at (714) 278-4540 or

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