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Home > ARRA Stories > Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer: Project F-EAT: Families and Eating and Activity in Teens
Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer: Project F-EAT: Families and Eating and Activity in Teens

By Carol Torgan

September 4, 2009

University of Minnesota Academic Health Center scientists, physicians, and research centers have attracted $45 million in stimulus grants since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was approved in February 2009. These awards will accelerate their research to advance science and improve health. Detailed below is one of the research projects supported by ARRA funds.

Photo of Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.
Professor, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Project F-EAT: Families and Eating and Activity in Teens

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $737,481

Research Focus: The rate of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years has more than tripled over the past three decades, disproportionately affecting ethnic minorities and individuals from low-income backgrounds. According to Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., while parents play a key role in creating a home environment that fosters healthful eating and physical activity, they often don't know how best to help their children.

"Parents are often in a dilemma about how much to talk about weight-related issues with their adolescent children and what their role is in helping their teens make healthy eating and exercise choices," said Dr. Neumark-Sztainer. "Our study will provide important insight to help us guide parents in helping their children."

Dr. Neumark-Sztainer's research will explore how the family and home environment of adolescents impact their weight, body image, weight control practices, food intake, and level of physical activity. This new project, made possible with funding provided by the Recovery Act, capitalizes on an already funded study which is surveying 2,400 adolescents and examining factors within their peer, school, and neighborhood environments.

The area school district is a mix of white, African-American, Asian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and American Indian students. Thus parents will be mailed a questionnaire in English, Spanish and other languages or dialects, including Hmong and Somalian. To include individuals who do not read, the investigators will follow up by telephone. "We will be working with parents from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds and socio-economic groups, so we will be learning about groups at highest risk for dietary and weight-related problems," said Dr. Neumark-Sztainer.

The study will collect information from parents and caregivers on how frequently the family eats meals together, the types of food served, the location of meals, portion sizes, rules about eating, and the visibility of foods at home. In addition, information on support and resources for physical activity, and the availability of media such as televisions and computers in the home, will be collected.

Economic Impact: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Recovery Act award will fund partial salaries for approximately ten current positions, including researchers, postdoctoral associates, graduate students, and project assistants; create new research positions; and fund research staff and community members from different ethnic and racial backgrounds who will assist with cultural reviews, survey translations, survey distribution, and phone calls to parents in different languages.

Dr. Neumark-Sztainer hired a graduate student to serve as project director with funds provided through the award. "This individual will undoubtedly utilize the experience she gains through this research project to guide her future as she intends to pursue a career dedicated to increasing our understanding of eating disorders and what can be done to prevent these devastating conditions," said Dr. Neumark-Sztainer.

A Routine Day: "I do not work in a typical lab since my work is more population-based," said Dr. Neumark-Sztainer. "We work as a team to reach out to children and adolescents, teachers, schools, parent groups, and other communities. I spend time in meetings with staff and students, teaching graduate students, and alone at my computer writing, as well as in the field with adolescents and their parents and teachers."

Time outside the lab: "I have four children, who are now adolescents and young adults," said Dr. Neumark-Sztainer. "When my children were young, I was primarily focused on balancing child-raising activities with my demanding work life. Now that my children are older (with one in high school, two in college, and one in law school), I have more time to devote to hobbies that I enjoy. I took up pottery during a sabbatical leave a few years ago and attend classes when time permits. I enjoy doing yoga to help with relaxation, and on the rare sunny and warm days in Minnesota, I ride my bike."

On Becoming a Scientist: "I have been fortunate to be able to work with a lot of great scientists and advocates within the field of eating disorder prevention who have paved the way for me and provided a warm, inviting atmosphere," said Dr. Neumark-Sztainer. "I have been interested in a field that would help decrease health disparities since I was an adolescent. I always thought it was unfair that some people had too much food and others had none. My ultimate goal is find out how we can help young people feel good about themselves and their bodies and work toward keeping their bodies and minds healthy and happy."

This article originally appeared on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.

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Research/Disease Category

  • Basic Behavioral and Social Science
  • Behavioral and Social Science
  • Clinical Research
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity
  • Pediatric
  • Prevention
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