ASU researchers receive USDA grant for just under $2.5 million to implement intervention aimed at parents of at-risk young children

Researchers in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology received a five-year grant for just under $2.5 million from the USDA to implement an intervention program that targets childhood obesity in a novel way: by teaching parenting skills.

In the United States, approximately 9 percent of children ages 2–5 years and 17 percent of children ages 6–11 years are obese. Childhood obesity can lead to lifelong health problems, even early death, and is linked to greater rates of depression and mental illness in young children and teenagers. Children who are ethnic minorities and who come from low-income families are the most likely to be obese.

Cady Berkel, associate research professor of psychology, and Justin D. Smith, who was a postdoctoral scientist in the ASU psychology department and is now an assistant professor at Northwestern University, are the lead investigators on the grant, which begins July 1.

The Family Check-Up 4 Health program

Berkel and Smith are trying to reach at-risk children ages 2–8 years before unhealthy eating and physical activity habits become established. The centerpiece of their project is the Family Check-Up 4 Health (FCU4Health) program. The FCU4Health program relies on medical offices or clinics throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area that offer integrated primary care and behavioral health services.

“The FCU4Health program is a unique childhood-obesity prevention program because it focuses on the parents to reach the kids,” said Berkel, who is also part of the ASU Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute.

Research on childhood obesity shows that simply informing parents about healthy eating habits and the importance of physical activity is…

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