Program helps minority families fight the fat


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Last week's announcement that obesity can spread from person to person, family member to family member, certainly comes as no surprise to Carolyn Tucker.

Facts

Family Health Screening Day

What: Apply for the free "Family Weight Loss Program" coming up in September, enjoy entertainment, prizes, snacks, free fingerprinting of children and meet UF athletes.

The University of Florida psychology professor is directing a project designed to help low-income families across the nation battle obesity and the health consequences that follow. A health screening day set for Saturday at Lincoln Middle School will help Tucker and her research team find families who want to lose weight and leave the problems of obesity behind them.

Tucker, now a distinguished alumni professor at UF, was raised in small-town Virginia, growing up as part of an African-American family where, as she says, "food was a way of expressing our love and affection and honoring our past."

Her family certainly was not alone in that belief.

According to a study from the advocacy group Trust for America's Health, the South as "The Biggest Belt" leads the nation in behaviors that can have serious health consequences. Six out of 10 adults in Florida rank as overweight or obese, the study reports.

Tucker is principal investigator on the Family Health Self-Improvement Empowerment Project for Modifying and Preventing Obesity. The project is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the PepsiCo Foundation and it is designed to reach more than 600 low-income and minority families across the United States.

The project title may be a mouthful, but Tucker said it is designed to give families the tools they need to take control of their health behaviors and their weight.

A lot of study went into determining what to put in and what to leave out of the free "Family Weight Loss Program," a series of workshops that will be offered in Gainesville and Ocala this fall.

Through some 30 community focus groups, Tucker and her project team gathered information on what motivates adults, teens or children to follow healthier behaviors. Tucker calls it "getting health smart." They also asked what the same folks saw as barriers to a healthier lifestyle. In some cases, the answers surprised them.

Some of the adults reported they didn't drink a lot of water because they were afraid they'd die from it.

Teen panelists said they often skipped breakfast, "because they wanted their stomach to be flat so they could look thinner when they went to school," according to Tucker.

She adds, "This isn't the sort of information you'll turn up by reading a book or a study."

The research team will collect data from communities across the United States, using a network of doctors recruited through the National Medical Association, YMCA centers, after-school programs and community contacts.

"We just sent out our first bunch of questionnaires to people from the Northeast, Southeast, West and Midwest, looking for a total of 1,920 participants, men, women and children of different ages and races," Tucker said. The study will enroll a racial and cultural mix of families - African-American, Hispanic, Asian and white for the free healthy-living workshops.

A total of 175 families are needed in both Gainesville and Ocala, and Saturday's health screening day is designed to get the word out about the project.

"It's going to be fun for the whole family, but we want to get people here who are potential candidates for the study," Tucker said.

They're looking for families where the primary caregiver is overweight or obese, a child or adolescent in the family is overweight or obese, and a third family member, child or adolescent, is not obese.

Nurses from UF's general clinical research center will weigh people, get their height, blood pressure and ask them to complete a demographic data sheet. If they are interested in the study, they will be asked to sign an informed consent form.

"We will call them back if they actually are selected for the study," Tucker said. Families selected will be compensated for taking part.

Enrollment information is confidential, and the sign-up process will take about 30 minutes, organizers say. The day will also include entertainment, games, prizes, snacks, free fingerprinting for children, and a chance to meet several UF athletes.

Those who can't make it on Saturday can call to set up an appointment to see if they qualify for the program.

Marie Bragg, an undergraduate student, is part of the health psychology research team working with Tucker on the project. Bragg said family groups chosen for the study will have two training sessions where they'll learn to use a pedometer, keep a one-week food record, and complete a questionnaire to see what they are currently doing about health-related behaviors and how they handle stress in their life.

A series of three Sunday afternoon and evening workshops later this fall will mix food, fun and education to help participants drop weight and change their unhealthy behaviors. Tucker and her team plan to produce at DVD version of the workshops for national distribution.

"We aren't going to come in, collect our data and go away," Tucker vows. Instead, she and her colleagues are banking on changing behaviors in order to change lives. INFOBOXf=Bureau Heavy * s=16 l=17Program criteria

*f=Helvetica s=10 l=11.7 Must be an overweight parent or primary caregiver with a child, ages 9 to 15, who is also overweight.

*f=Helvetica s=10 l=11.7 A second child who is not overweight can also participate.

*f=Helvetica s=10 l=11.7 Family group is African-American, Asian, Hispanic or white.

*f=Helvetica s=10 l=11.7 Family income is $40,000 or less (with no income limit for Asian participants).

*f=Helvetica s=10 l=11.7 Do not have diabetes or an eating disorder.

*f=Helvetica s=10 l=11.7 Must attend two training sessions and three workshops this fall.

Diane Chun can be reached at 352-374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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