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Professors recieve grant to research teen obesity

Irena Zajickova | Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two Notre Dame professors have received a grant to research how personalized information technology can be used to combat teenage obesity in the South Bend area.

Corey Angst, an assistant professor of management, and Elizabeth Moore, an associate professor of marketing, were awarded the Rodney F. Gainey community-based research grant, which is given annually to three different groups. Angst said that one of the main aspects of the grant was that it must be centered on helping the community.

“The idea behind this type of grant is that it’s community-based, so we have to have partners in the community willing to work with us on this,” Angst said.

Angst and Moore’s partners will be the Memorial Family Medicine Center and St. Joseph County health services. The two professors will use the grant to explore how effective technology-based methods of weight-loss advice, such as text messages and social networking Web sites, contrast with more traditional methods, such as pamphlets.

“The idea behind the project is that even in underserved regions of the community, these teens end up having access to cell phones,” Angst said. “Rather than using the traditional methods such as brochures, we will be sending them texts and directing them to sites such as Facebook.”

Angst said that obesity is a serious problem in the South Bend area, especially in poorer parts of the city that are unable to find fresh produce or obtain information about the dangers of obesity.

“[Obesity is] a huge problem locally,” Angst said. “Especially in underserved populations where they have less access to fresh vegetables and fruit and often times they just aren’t privy to much information about how much obesity we have in this country.”

Angst said that part of the study will involve talking to adults about obesity and various methods of preventing or reducing it.

“One of the biggest problems is that there is an 80 percent chance of being obese as an adult if you are obese as a child,” Angst said.

The actual study will entail finding willing participants between the ages of 12 and 19 at the Memorial Family Medical Center. About 500 of their teenage patients are obese or at risk for obesity. The team will send them personalized messages to help them learn about obesity and try and lose weight.

“We will craft specific messages that we will send to them over time,” Angst said. “Some will require feedback, like [asking the teenagers to record their eating habits].”

The study will also direct the students to social networking Web sites where they can calculate their body mass index and talk to other individuals going through similar problems. This will enable the team to explore how these sites are being used by teens.

The initial pilot study will take approximately six months. If the study is successful, the researchers would like to follow the teens’ progress for up to three years.