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GW Professor Receives Nearly $3 Million From NIH To Explore Genetic And Environmental Connections To Childhood Obesity
Jody Ganiban to Study Adopted Children to Identify Various Risk, Prevention and Intervention Factors
November 28, 2011
WASHINGTON- According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 12.5 million U.S. children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 are obese. The past 30 years have witnessed tremendous increases in childhood obesity, creating the development of obesity prevention and intervention programs specifically aimed at children, including First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
In the midst of this national epidemic, GW professor Jody Ganiban seeks to identify ways that a child’s genetic makeup, prenatal history and home environment work together to cause obesity. Funded by a nearly $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Ganiban’s study will track the growth of a nationwide cohort of 561 adopted children from birth up to 7 to 9 years of age and include assessments of their birth parents and adoptive parents. Approximately 2,200 individuals will be included in this study.
“The long term goal of this project is to understand how the home environment can mitigate or boost the impact of a child’s genetic and prenatal risk for obesity,” said Dr. Ganiban. “By studying adopted children, we can tease apart genetic and prenatal influences on child weight from their current home environments.”
According to Dr. Ganiban, prevention and intervention programs have had limited effectiveness over time. She explains that most programs may not consider a child’s personal risk for obesity and the need to individualize prevention efforts in order to cause long term changes in weight. Her study seeks to identify different pathways to obesity, and the different combinations of risk factors that predict each pathway. The findings may open the way for individualized prevention and intervention approaches to address the unique vulnerabilities and needs of children.
In collaboration with researchers from the Oregon Social Learning Center and the Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Ganiban and her researcher partners will interview adoptive parents about their child’s growth, diet, activities, sleeping patterns, family-wide activities and habits that are related to maintaining a healthy weight. Simultaneously, they will re-contact the birth families to carefully assess genetic-based risks for obesity by gathering detailed information about the weight history, obesity-related health conditions, activity levels and food preferences of the birth parents. Interviews with adoptive and birth families will start in January 2012. The study is slated to end by early 2016.
“Childhood obesity is among the most pressing health issues of our time,” said Peg Barratt, dean of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Science. “We are thrilled to receive major funding support from NIH to enable research into the underlying causes of this national epidemic.”
Established in 1821 in the heart of the nation’s capital, The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is the largest of GW’s academic units. It encompasses the School of Media and Public Affairs, the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration and more than 40 departments and programs for undergraduate, graduate and professional studies. The Columbian College provides the foundation for GW’s commitment to the liberal arts and a broad education for all students. An internationally recognized faculty and active partnerships with prestigious research institutions place Columbian College at the forefront in advancing policy, enhancing culture and transforming lives through research and discovery.
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