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U of I researchers receive USDA grant to develop childhood obesity intervention programs

URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois researchers have been awarded a USDA grant that aims to decrease childhood obesity rates in Hispanic populations.

The grant, funded under the 2014 Farm Bill through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) for nearly $500,000, intends to continue support up to five years for a total of $3.4 million.

The program, Abriendo Caminos, is a six-week workshop series that promotes healthy dietary behavior patterns and basic knowledge of nutrition; positive family interactions, including shared family mealtimes; and active living in low-literacy, low-income Hispanic families. It specifically targets 6- to 18-year-old children of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage in five locations across the country.

Abriendo Caminos was developed by two faculty members in the U of I’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. The program is directed by Margarita Teran-Garcia, a U of I assistant professor of nutrition and Extension specialist for Hispanic health programs. Angela Wiley, a U of I associate professor in family studies, co-directs the project.

Affiliated with Abriendo Caminos at other sites are Amber Hammons at California State University, Fresno; Kimberly Greder of Iowa State University; Maria L. Plaza and Nancy J. Correa at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez; and Sylvia Crixell of Texas State University.

The research team intends to generate a diverse community of scholars who will develop and disseminate programs to decrease gaps in health inequality, including Hispanic university students, who will meet the specific needs of this population.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in announcing the funding, said that one-third of American children are overweight or obese, making this issue one of the greatest health challenges facing our nation.

Teran-Garcia stressed that Spanish-speaking families are at increased risk of obesity and its associated metabolic diseases. “Abriendo Caminos has been successful in changing the behaviors that lead to childhood obesity in this growing segment of the U.S. population,” she said.

“Our preliminary findings indicate that participants in Abriendo Caminos eat more fruits and vegetables and drink less sugary beverages after participating in the program,” Wiley said.


News Sources:
Margarita Teran-Garcia, 217-244-2025
Angela Wiley, 217-265-5279

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Margarita De L Teran-Garcia

Dr. Margarita De L Teran-Garcia

Human nutrition; gene- nutrient interactions of humans; the role of genetic and environmental influences on the development of obesity.Obesity and its related diseases are now a worldwide health and socio-economical burden. Although it is likely that the growing epidemic of obesity is primarily related to unhealthy diets and lack of exercise, heritability studies indicate that genetic factors account for 30 to 70% of the predisposition to excessive weight gain. Despite the progress in identifying some monogenic causes of obesity, the progress in defining the genetic basis of common obesity has been proven to be a complex task.  Obesity increases the risk of developing diseases such as insulin resistance and diabetes, altered lipoprotein metabolism, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis. These obesity-related diseases have also a genetic component.The goal of my research is to expand on the knowledge of gene-environment interactions. Our individual genetic profile interacts with the environment to allow a gene or groups of genes in different metabolic pathways to adapt to changes in diet or exercise and many other environmental factors, to maintain a healthy status. As we understand more about gene-environment interactions, individualized recommendations for preventing obesity and obesity-related diseases will become more accessible and reliable. My research group investigates nutrient-gene, exercise-gene and other gene-environment interactions in children and adults from diverse populations.We will use high-throughput systems to genotype markers and real-time RT-PCR for gene expression analysis. These data will be integrated with anthropometric measurements, life-style factors and blood metabolic profiles to investigate genetic associations. We intend to use these techniques to identify genes that might be associated with obesity and related diseases. Our goal is to find early diagnosis markers that will help in the development of effective and individualized interventions directed at preventing childhood and adult obesity, and the morbidity due to obesity-related diseases.


Assistant Professor; teranmd@illinois.edu; more detail here.


 

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