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Helping Montana Families Fight Obesity

June 15, 2009 -- Excerpted from Carol Flaherty, MSU News

College Office

A research project at Montana State University may help shape future health programs for rural areas around the country. MSU Extension Food and Nutrition, Extension 4-H Youth Development and the Department of Psychology have received a $1.5 million four-year grant from the USDA to design, conduct and assess a healthy-living program that offers information and opportunities for improving physical activity, nutrition and body image to parents in rural areas.

Part of the study will examine to what degree a program aimed at supporting healthy lifestyle choices in one generation influences the next generation. The program for parents will provide both hand-on experiences and information. Results will be collected from both parents and children and will include physical measures such as heart rate, body mass index and breathing capacity, as well as factors such as how participants feel about themselves.

“It’s the assessment part of this program that you wouldn’t see in a typical ‘help people’ program,” said Wes Lynch, professor of psychology and one of the investigators on the study. “We’re trying to find out what works in rural areas, where people don’t have the resources of a nearby gym or sports club.”

One of the motivations behind the USDA funding research into what supports healthy choices is that health care costs are reduced when a person commits to living healthier, said Lynch, who will be in charge of assessment and data analysis. He hopes parents will understand that, in addition to getting a helpful experience for themselves and their family, they will be “a part of an important scientific study to determine how to slow this nationwide progression to obesity.”

Lynn Paul, an MSU Extension nutrition specialist, is the principal investigator. Jill Martz, director of MSU Extension’s 4-H Center for Youth Development, is also an investigator on the study.

Updated: 04/15/2011