UM Researchers Join Statewide Study of Childhood Obesity Policies

Miss. – A new statewide $2 million study of childhood obesity
prevention policies in Mississippi will include research from the
University of Mississippi’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Center for Mississippi Health Policy is overseeing the five-year study,
which involves three state universities. The study, funded by the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., is to evaluate the
impact of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act on the state’s child
obesity rate.

“There is a strong connection between health and
academic achievement,” said state Superintendent of Education Hank
Bounds. “Mississippi’s new policies will create an environment in our
schools that promotes healthy lifestyles for children and prepares them
to be fit, healthy and ready to learn.”

According to a survey conducted by researchers at the College of Health at the University of Southern Mississippi, 95 percent of adult Mississippians think that childhood obesity is a serious problem for the state. The survey also shows that Mississippi adults strongly support public policies that address the problem by improving school environments.

The Mississippi Healthy Students Act was passed by the Legislature in 2007 to improve nutrition, physical activity and health education in public schools. Together with funding from the Bower Foundation, the Center for Mississippi Health Policy will work with investigators at Ole Miss, Mississippi State University and USM to evaluate the effectiveness of state policies in preventing childhood obesity and to coordinate the evaluation with similar projects in other states.

Teresa Carithers, UM’s FCS chair, is one of the original three principal investigators asked to participate, and she has added her UM colleagues Laurel Lambert, associate professor, and Emmy Parkes, instructor, to the FCS research team, and Victor Fernandez as project coordinator.

“We are excited to be a part of this statewide evaluation project that has potential to really impact the obesity trends in Mississippi and place a much needed focus on the health of our children,” Carithers said.

By identifying the barriers to policy implementation, the project can play a critical role in providing the data that policymakers need to better allocate resources and to formulate more effective and sustainable state nutrition policies, she said.

Therese Hanna, executive director of the Center for Mississippi Health Policy and director of the project, said the center is pleased to collaborate with the Ole Miss department.

“The expertise of Dr. Carithers and her staff is a valuable asset, and their research will provide important information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of state childhood obesity prevention policies in Mississippi and to inform future policy decisions.”

For more information on the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, visit .