College of Education and Human Development

Family Social Science

U of M Medical School researchers-FSOS Alumni-awarded $5M to reduce childhood obesity disparities

Dr. Jerica Berge

A research team led by the University of Minnesota Medical School has been awarded a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to conduct a clinical trial that hopes to identify the most effective approach to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in childhood obesity.

Lead investigator of the study, Jerica Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CFLE, is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the U of M Medical School and an alumna of the Family Social Science PhD program. She will lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the U of M and the University of Georgia that includes Tai Mendenhall, professor in Family Social Science and an alum of both the bachelor’s and PhD programs.

Tai Mendenhall
Dr. Tai Mendenhall

The study will use combinations of intervention methods – including ecological momentary intervention, home visiting and video feedback in partnership with community health workers. The ecological momentary intervention method, defined as real-time treatments provided to people via their smartphones during their everyday lives, will provide parents with stress reduction tips and resources. Virtual or hybrid home visits and video feedback will be delivered by community health workers to provide counseling on the home food environment. The team will use the intervention methods to examine whether or not increasing the quality and quantity of family meals reduces childhood obesity disparities.

“With the low-to-moderate success with childhood obesity interventions to date and the persistent obesity disparities across race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, there is a need to approach childhood obesity in a new and innovative way,” Berge said. “We hope this study will change clinical practice by creating a new model of treatment to be used in primary care settings to reduce childhood obesity disparities.”

The five-year grant is supported by the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Co-investigators of the team include U of M researchers Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH; Katie Loth, PhD, MPH; Michael Miner, PhD; Angela Fertig, PhD; and University of Georgia researcher Allan Tate, PhD.