New Program Reaches out to Preschoolers to Target High Obesity Rates in Lubbock

-- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Project to Evaluate Impact of Early Intervention on Adoption of Healthy Eating Habits, Active Living --

HARTFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- As part of its efforts to address the nation’s obesity epidemic, the Aetna Foundation has awarded a $50,000 grant to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Nursing to pilot a childhood obesity-prevention project in Lubbock. The program is aimed at 4- and 5-year-olds from low-income Hispanic families, who are at higher risk of developing obesity and its related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease.

Du Feng, Ph.D., professor at the TTUHSC School of Nursing and the project’s principal investigator, said addressing obesity in the state’s Hispanic population is of utmost importance.

“Nearly 50 percent of Hispanic children in grades kindergarten through sixth in Southeast Texas have been measured above the 85th percentile on the Body Mass Index (BMI),” Feng said. “If we are to reverse these alarming statistics, we need to reach children with proven methods to instill healthier lifestyles at younger ages. Our goal is to assist low-income families to create and sustain healthy environments that promote the prevention of childhood obesity.”

Unlike most childhood obesity prevention programs that treat school-age children and adolescents, the new TTUHSC project has designed its home-visit family intervention program for at-risk preschoolers to help the young children and their families adopt healthy eating habits and active lifestyles before harmful behaviors become an ingrained way of life.

“Childhood is a critical period for developing a predisposition to lifelong obesity,” said Sharon Dalton, vice president of the Aetna Foundation and director of its regional grant making. “Data show that upwards of three-quarters of obese children become obese adults. Obesity’s impact on overall health can be devastating. By reaching out to at-risk children before age 6 and engaging the entire family, the TTUHSC program has great potential to help children enjoy good health throughout their lives.”

The program aimed at preschoolers is similar to TTUHSC’s obesity-prevention program that had significant success several years ago when introduced to overweight children ages 5 to 8 in Lubbock and San Elizario. Children who participated in the program became more physically active, drank fewer sweetened beverages and had a slower growth rate of body fat and increase of percentile in BMI, than the overweight children who did not participate in the intervention program.

The new TTUHSC project, which began Jan. 15, will target approximately 60 families of predominantly Hispanic preschool students enrolled in Head Start programs at two Lubbock elementary schools. Promotoras, or Hispanic community health workers, will make a minimum of 10 home visits over a 6- to 12-week period to provide individualized, culturally appropriate education and social support to encourage healthy eating habits and active lifestyles, such as ample access to nutrient-dense foods and beverages for meals and snacks, avoiding use of food as a reward, having breakfast, reducing television and video game time, increasing fun and feasible physical activities for the entire family and sharing meals together.

At the end of the intervention period, researchers will compare the results of the program to those targeting older children to gain a better understanding of the optimal age for children to be engaged in obesity-prevention efforts. The findings have implications for obesity-prevention programs across the country.

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003. Aetna’s current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit


To date TTUHSC has trained more than 10,000 health care professionals. The institution meets the health care needs of more than 2.5 million people who live throughout a 108-county area from Texas to Eastern New Mexico.

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The Aetna Foundation, Inc.
Anjie Coplin, 214-200-8056
[email protected]
Beth Phillips, 806-743-2143
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