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UConn researcher studying childhood obesity

By Julia Werth
On September 16, 2013

Dr. Amy Mobley, an assistant professor in the UConn Nutritional Sciences Department has recently started work on several new projects concerning paternal feeding style and childhood obesity. Unlike the traditional scientist, Mobley cannot find the answers to her questions within the confines of a laboratory; her research takes place out in the community.
For the past two years Mobley and her team of graduate students have been working with a program called "All 4 Kids" which was developed at the University of Nevada and is now present in four states.
Since Mobley implemented the program in Connecticut her team has engaged with 150 families of preschool students. The program lasts for eight weeks with three sessions per week. The project has three main goals: teaching the children how to eat smart, how to be active, and how to accept others no matter what their size.
"We give the children examples of healthy snacks" to help them make better choices, "and teach them a dance at each session," said Mobley.
Mobley has become interested in how a parent's eating habits and feeding styles influence their child's weight. Maternal feeding styles have been heavily researched and evaluated over the years. According to Mobley, it is an accepted fact that if a mother is authoritative, but also allows her children to choose their own food, they will typically make healthier choices and be at a lower risk for obesity.
The same investigations, however, have not been conducted in terms of the father's role in a child's eating habits; this is where Mobley's most recent research endeavors come in to play.
This past summer, she ran a pilot program with four low-income fathers in Connecticut. Each father was interviewed about their eating habits and feeding styles. They were encouraged to attend four sessions where they were taught some basic cooking skills, how to keep kids active indoors, and the importance of being open to different foods, especially vegetables, in the diet.
In the coming months, Mobley hopes to expand her research on the father's role in childhood obesity. Currently, graduate students are working on recruiting fathers for 90-minute interviews to gather more data about their eating habits, preferences, and styles.
It is Mobley's hope that this new research will provide the Nutritional Science community with clues to the often forgotten role of the parent and how parents can best work to prevent the spread of childhood obesity.

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