ABC Preschool Study
CORTISOL AND EATING BEHAVIOR IN LOW-INCOME CHILDREN
One way that stress is hypothesized to “get under the skin” and lead to adverse health outcomes in chronically stressed, impoverished populations is via changes in stress neurobiology, specifically the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA), or “stress” axis and patterns of cortisol secretion. Our team was awarded a Challenge Grant in 2009 to examine stress and eating behavior in relation to obesity in low-income 3- to 5-year-olds. This study assessed diurnal cortisol patterns and eating behaviors in 380 low-income preschool-aged children. Results suggested associations between aberrant diurnal salivary cortisol patterns, food-related tantrums, and overweight, beginning at age 36 months. This study used the same cohort as the ABC Brain Games cohort and was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK 1RC1DK086376).
Stress Reactivity Study
STRESS REACTIVITY, CORTISOL, AND OBESITY IN LOW-INCOME CHILDREN
Under conditions of chronic stress, such as poverty, aberrations in both the normal diurnal pattern of cortisol secretion and cortisol reactivity to stress have been seen in adults, and have been related to obesity. Yet, little is known about the stress-response-obesity association in young children. This study examined how young, low-income children responded behaviorally and physiologically to challenging situations, and how their behavioral and biological responses to stress (salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase) related to their weight status and body mass index. Results, based on 250 children, demonstrated associations of blunted physiological responses to stress among children with a higher body mass index. This study used the same cohort as the ABC Brain Games cohort and was funded by the American Heart Association (10GRNT4460043).
ABC Kids Study
BIOBEHAVIORAL MECHANISMS LINKING STRESS AND OBESITY IN LOW-INCOME CHILDREN
Our early work has made clear that the pathways linking stress to obesity via eating behavior are complex and multifactorial, and involve biologic and behavioral pathways. The ABC Kids study considered mechanisms that could mediate links between stress and obesity, specifically sensitivity to food as a reward and ability to delay gratification for food. How such eating behaviors cluster and develop over time, and how different aspects of stress (i.e., chronic vs. immediate stressors) relate to these behaviors remains unknown. We examined the cross-sectional relationship of psychosocial stress (chronic and immediate stress) with obesity-promoting eating behaviors (including satiety responsiveness, reinforcing value of food, and the ability to delay gratification for food) and body mass index (BMI) z-score at age 7 years, and examined longitudinal associations of chronic stress and reactivity to stress early in life (age 3 years) with changes in obesity-promoting eating behaviors between ages 3 and 7 years. This study used the same cohort as the ABC Brain Games cohort and was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NICHD/NIDDK R01 DK098983).
ABC Toddler Study
SELF-REGULATION AS A BIOLOGICAL MECHANISM FOR EXCESS WEIGHT GAIN IN TODDLERS
Self-regulation is a broad set of skills involving control of behaviors, attention, emotions, and motivation, that begins to develop very early in the lifespan. Poor bio-behavioral self-regulation can contribute to a number of unhealthy behaviors as individuals seek and consume substances that can be calming at a neurobiological level. Toddlerhood is a time when food is an accessible substance with biological properties that may aid the individual’s ability to self-regulate. The ABC-Toddler Study examined the development of bio-behavioral self-regulation in food and non-food contexts longitudinally among low-income children ages 21 through 33 months. This study was funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Development (NICHD 1R01HD069179).
Growing Healthy Study
ENHANCING SELF REGULATION AS A STRATEGY FOR OBESITY PREVENTION
Nearly one in five 4-year-old children in the United States is obese. Socioeconomic disparities are already apparent at this age, with low-income children having a 1.5 to 2 times higher obesity prevalence compared to middle- to upper-income children. Such disparities in obesity prevalence are poorly understood. Further, there are few obesity prevention programs targeting the preschool age range that have been rigorously tested, and their effects tend to be modest. Growing Healthy was funded by the USDA (2010-04785), Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Childhood Obesity Challenge Area (AFRI2011-68001-30089). Growing Healthy was a randomized controlled trial that examined a novel obesity prevention program in a sample of 600 low-income preschoolers attending Head Start. This study was a collaboration between the University of Michigan (UM) and Michigan State University (MSU), our state Extension Program and 3 Head Start agencies.