PHILADELPHIA – A $3.7 million grant was recently awarded to Temple University to prevent obesity among low-income pre-schoolers by teaching mothers strategies to promote healthy food choices and portion sizes to their children. Announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the grant was unveiled by Roger Beachy, director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), on behalf of Vilsack at Temple University.

"Instilling healthy eating habits at an early age is an investment in our nation's children to help them grow up and win the future," Beachy said. "NIFA supports sound scientific research that will reverse the trend of rising obesity rates and help children and their families adopt healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime."

The grant supports the work of Dr. Jennifer Orlet Fisher, associate professor of public health and director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University. Elena Serrano, associate professor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech, will partner with Fisher on the grant. The project’s goal is to develop obesity prevention strategies that focus on adjusting portion size to lower the amount of fat and sugar in children's diets.

Three parts are included in Fisher's project:

  • Researchers will talk with mothers to learn how various factors – socioeconomic, socio-cultural, and structural – influence parental strategies for establishing portion size for their children.
  • Next they will develop and clinically test a behavioral intervention for mothers and their children.
  • Ultimately, the project will be implemented in an urban community in Virginia as part of the SNAP-Ed program, an extension of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides nutrition education to schools.

"Low-income individuals are some of the hardest hit by obesity," Fisher said. "And we know that preventing obesity in childhood is critical, so we want to implement a program that will help mothers promote healthy child behaviors as early as possible, to reduce the risk of obesity later."

The long-term goal of this program is to reduce the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents ages two to 19 years.