VU, Metro Parks Expand Childhood Obesity Work

Vanderbilt’s Department of Pediatrics, in partnership with the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Department of Parks and Recreation, has been awarded a $12 million, seven-year grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) for an ambitious project aimed at stopping obesity in preschoolers before it can take hold. The project, titled “Growing Right onto Wellness (GROW): Changing Early Body Mass Index (BMI) Trajectories,” will bring 600 families to their neighborhood Metro Parks facilities and provide a curriculum specially designed to fit a variety of ethnic groups.

“An overweight preschooler is four to five times more likely to stay overweight as an adolescent,” says Dr. Shari Barkin, the Marion Wright Edelman Chair of Pediatrics and division chief of general pediatrics. “And if you stay overweight as an adolescent, there is a 70 percent likelihood you will stay overweight as an adult.” Barkin is principal investigator of GROW.

GROW builds on the success of another project titled “Salud con la Familia,” which Vanderbilt Magazine readers first learned about in the Spring 2010 issue (“Flood Tide in Tennessee”). Barkin and colleagues formed a group, the Nashville Collaborative, with Metro Parks and Recreation that worked with 100 Latino families with toddlers to do what has been difficult to accomplish in the past: spur lasting lifestyle changes in families.

While the Salud project focused on Latino families, GROW will recruit a much wider spectrum of families within Davidson County. It is hoped that several racial and ethnic backgrounds will be represented among the 600 families ultimately recruited. Barkin says the success of this format—bringing academic institutions and community resources together—could create a national model to make lasting health changes in the community.

Six Vanderbilt co-investigators will work on a variety of aspects of the GROW project.

“This partnership, overall with Vanderbilt and with Dr. Barkin, has been the most successful effort to really get a handle on health issues that I have experienced in my 20 years of service with Metro,” says Paul Widman, assistant director of Metro Parks and Recreation.

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