The Miriam awarded $2.5M to trial intervention for children with obesity

May 6, 2019

CDC funds research into community program for low-income families

The Miriam Hospital, thanks to the support of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, has received a major federal grant to study the effectiveness of a community-based intervention program to help children from low-income families whose health is challenged by obesity.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded a five-year, $2.45 million grant for a trial to be led by Elissa Jelalian, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at The Miriam Hospital and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The project will be conducted through The Miriam’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center.

The grant will allow Jelalian, the study’s principal investigator, to evaluate new settings for implementing a family-based intervention program, JOIN for ME, which was developed by UnitedHealth Group and which Jelalian has previously studied.

The program will help children and their families to adopt a healthier lifestyle, with greater consumption of nutritious foods and beverages, increased physical activity, and decreased screen time.  To achieve these goals, parents are taught to be role models for their children and families are connected to community resources to help support changes in lifestyle behaviors. The goal is to improve weight and health-related quality of life and to understand whether the intervention can be successfully implemented in novel settings.

The new trial, which will recruit 128 children ages 6 to 12, will evaluate the effectiveness of running the program out of two community settings that provide services to low-income families – housing authorities and physician offices that have been designated patient-centered medical homes (primary care practices that coordinate a patient’s treatment in a manner they can understand and that ensure care is provided when and where they need it). 

“Although evidence-based interventions have been developed to address obesity in children, the vast majority of youth do not have access to such programs,” said Jelalian. “The most pressing need is in children from low-income families, who are at greatest risk for obesity and least likely to have access to care. Delivering interventions through community settings offers one strategy for increasing access. “This work extends our research on healthy weight, nutrition, and physical activity that has been funded as part of the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute.”

The CDC estimates that nearly one in five children and adolescents have obesity. Obesity in childhood can cause immediate health problems and lead to obesity-related problems in adulthood, such as sleep apnea and diabetes. The grant reflects mounting evidence that comprehensive family-based lifestyle approaches are effective and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations that clinicians refer youths with weight issues to such programs.

“We want every child to be healthy, regardless of their zip code or family income. This federal grant will help The Miriam Hospital take a collaborative, evidence-based approach to combatting childhood obesity and promoting healthy living,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.  “The JOIN for Me program will help develop improved approaches to childhood obesity prevention and lead to healthier kids and communities.”

“Heading off obesity early on can make all the difference in a child’s long-term health,” said U.S. Sen Sheldon Whitehouse. “This federal funding will allow The Miriam Hospital to help children from low-income families who are at risk of obesity to lead healthier lives.”

U.S. Rep. James Langevin said, “Combating childhood obesity is a critical part of building strong, healthy communities. I am pleased The Miriam Hospital has secured this funding to test a community-based program that will serve children in low-income families who are at risk for obesity and often lack access to care. By connecting families with community resources, this program will help guide the development of evidence-based interventions that reach all of Rhode Island’s children.”

“Miriam Hospital has played a critical role in ensuring that children throughout Rhode Island grow up safe and healthy for generations,” said U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. “This critical funding for the hospital’s JOIN for Me trial program will allow The Miriam to continue leading the way in creating a sustainable future for our state’s next generation. A brighter tomorrow for our children is the best thing we can offer, and I’m proud of the work we’re doing at the federal level to continue bringing home necessary funds to provide that right here in Rhode Island.”

Richard Salit

Senior Public Relations Officer
The Miriam Hospital, Newport Hospital, Gateway Healthcare