STRONG kids program aims to prevent childhood obesity
April 8, 2020

There are countless projects to work on, professors to meet, and experiences to gain within the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois. In speaking with just one professor, Dr. Barbara Fiese, one can learn about countless different projects. Here is a short synopsis of two projects she is involved with. One current project is the STRONG kids program. 

STRONG stands for: Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group for the prevention of childhood obesity. The program’s overall goals are to discern a significant cause of childhood obesity and provide information about how to limit or decrease it. Researchers began by studying a group of kids from ages 2 through 5 via the “cell to society” model. 

The model involves examining five different aspects of the child’s life. It starts with the child, moving to how the family is organized and the type of food that is bought, then to community influence and access to food. The fourth consideration is the influence of society, media exposure and food advertisements, and finally, cultural practice and impact. These five aspects provide extensive information into most factors that affect obesity. 

The research group then ran a second program, which started studying the children before they were born through age 6. Through both projects, data was collected on dairy consumption and body measurements of both the child and mother, DNA, stool (mother and child), and breastmilk formulation. Much of the analysis fell on the effects of having a tv in the child’s room, which corresponds to underlying issues in routine and sleep patterns, and ultimately correlates to having an influence on childhood obesity. 

Dr. Fiese is also involved in the Feeding America program, a national organization of food pantries. One in six children don’t have access to live a healthy lifestyle, of which food is a primary factor. However, many of those households also don’t have access to essential household products, like toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste. This program is working on getting these products into food pantries and, therefore, to make them available to families who need them.

Along with Feeding America, Dr. Fiese is working on the Weekend Feeding program, which aims to extend food resources for school kids when they don’t have access to school cafeterias. The HDFS department is a leader in the research on childhood obesity and food insecurity, aiming to help implement programs to keep children full, happy, and healthy in their critical growing years and to aid families in maintaining a healthy and thriving home.

Students in ACES 399: “Vision 2050 –Grand Challenges of the Millenium” attend presentations by ACES faculty members about current topics in agriculture. As part of their class assignments, students are asked to write blog posts reflecting on those topics. The Voices of ACES blog will feature select ACES 399 blog posts throughout the semester.