Current Project Descriptions
Despite traditional notions of the summer months as a highly active time for youth, children’s weight gain appears to accelerate over the summer. Data on this phenomenon, though, are limited to only a handful of studies of the early elementary years. There is a need for more research addressing this “summertime slide” among youth of varying ages and locations (e.g., urban versus rural settings) as well as a careful examination of contributing factors to summertime weight gain. Work that our lab has completed to address summertime influences on children’s obesogenic behaviors and weight, include: (1) a three-year study evaluating the effectiveness of community summer programming to improve weight-related health outcomes among low-income urban girls, (2) the publication of the first comprehensive book chapter documenting associations between summertime and child obesity, and (3) an action-oriented policy brief for the Society of Behavioral Medicine that focused on curbing summertime weight gain in America’s youth. Looking ahead, we will be working with colleagues to examine the impact of school-year breaks on obesity and obesogenic behaviors among school-age children in Brazil, as well as analyzing larger datasets from both the Chicago Public Schools/Chicago Department of Health to examine the role of school calendars on weight gain. In addition, we are working on a systematic review of weight gain during school-year for those receiving/not receiving school-based interventions as well as utilizing large databases including, NHANES, ECLS-K as well the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, to address questions regarding summertime and weight gain. In addition, we will continue to develop grant applications for NIH and relevant foundations to delineate and intervene on modifiable factors relevant to summertime weight gain among youth.
Although the causes of obesity are multifaceted, regular consumption of energy dense, nutrient poor food likely contributes to the problem. As such, the widespread marketing of such food is a growing concern. Recent estimates suggest that the food industry spends close to $2 billion each year on marketing to young people alone, mostly for foods that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium. Although research suggests that exposure to unhealthy food marketing is associated with greater consumption of unhealthy foods, one popular argument is that individuals should resist such advertising by exercising more personal responsibility over what they eat. However, what if resisting unhealthy food advertising actually impacts an individual’s ability to self-regulate? The FOOD CUES study seeks to answer this question. In collaboration with Dr. Becky Silton’s WELL lab, the FOOD CUES study is currently investigating the impact that unhealthy food commercials have on self-regulation in a young adult population via a lab-based study. FOOD CUES is a multi-method study using both EEG and neuropsychological measures to measure self-regulation. We are also interested in how individual differences (such as engaging in disordered eating) are associated with response to commercials. This study will also have a daily diary component which will be completed prior to the lab-based study to identify potential participants and capture information regarding consistency and timing of various health behaviors across the first year of college.
Space to Grow (STG)
We have teamed up with the Healthy Schools Campaign to evaluate their Space to Grow initiative! Space to Grow (STG) has and will be transforming playgrounds and schoolyards of selected Chicago Public Schools (CPS) into green spaces that meet the unique needs and visions of their respective schools and communities. Along with colleagues at the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute, we will be evaluating five STG schoolyard transformations at CPS schools around Chicago. This project will support the scaling up of the STG initiative and inform the broader public health, education, public policy and green infrastructure communities about the benefits of investing in schools and the built environment. The specific aims of the STG evaluation project are to assess the impact of the schoolyard redesign on 1) utilization and characteristics of the schoolyard, 2) changes in students’ health, well-being, and academic outcomes, 3) changes in the school environment, and 4) changes in school-community engagement and cohesion. To carry out these aims, we are collecting observational data using Behavioral Mapping techniques, survey data from parents, teachers, school administrators and community members, process data on the evaluation procedure, and school-level data on attendance, attrition, health and wellness variables, and disciplinary action.
Girls in the Game (GIG)
We are greatly interested in applying our work to programming and policy, and we are able to do so through our role as research coordinators for Girls in the Game, a Chicago-based non-profit organization. Girls in the Game aims to improve the health and wellbeing of girls through sports and fitness, health education, and leadership development. For the past decade, we have assisted GIG in preparing two grant applications and have been the principal investigator of effectiveness studies of the after-school program. We will continue to collect data on the effects of GIG after-school programming on youth and adolescents.
Study of Teen Adjustment in Affluent Communities (STAAC)
Only in the last ten years have researchers begun to acknowledge that adolescents from affluent families are vulnerable to a unique set of adjustment problems. STAAC aims to investigate levels of anxiety, depression, substance use, and satisfaction with life in affluent youth. Specifically, we examine the impact of perfectionism, ideas about success, parental pressure, school competition, and organized activity involvement on these adjustment outcomes. As proposed in the over-scheduling hypothesis, affluent youth may often be over-involved to such a degree that they suffer from stress-related problems. Participants have been recruited from affluent suburbs of Boston, New York, and Chicago. Results from this work have been presented at several international conferences. To date, several manuscripts have been published from this data (see Publications and Presentations page). Most notably, this work has led to the development of a new measure, the 10-item Effortless Perfectionism Scale. Effortless perfection (EP) is a phenomenon referenced in popular culture, but had yet to be validated empirically. In addition to conceptualizing and discussing the theoretical underpinnings of EP, we have established the psychometric properties of this scale in a recent paper in Psychological Assessment. Our work suggests that EP is a distinct type of perfectionism that warrants future investigation. We will be collecting more data on EP in two community based samples. The first is a high school sample in an affluent community to better understand links between EP, pain and psychological well-being. The second is a college sample where we can delineate links between EP, pain, anxiety, happiness, savoring, as well as executive functions.
We have joined forces with Dr. Catherine Santiago’s CASA (Children Adapting to Stress and Adversity) Lab on their project, “Protective processes among immigrant families: The impact of family coping on Mexican-origin children.” This project will examine the role of family coping in protecting children against immigration stress by promoting positive mental health and the development of adaptive child coping among Mexican-origin families. In particular, our lab is interested in factors related to obesity among these families, including sleep and stress, given the disproportionate rate of obesity among Mexican immigrants to the United States and given that Mexico’s obesity rate recently surpassed that of the United States. See the CASA Lab website for more information: http://casalabluc.weebly.com/
Another interdisciplinary project that Activity Matters lab has worked on focused on is developing and evaluating nutritionally-designed diningware plates (i.e., Nutri-plate) on adolescents’ food choices. This project was supported by a seed grant from the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). Results from this pilot study were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in 2010 and the Nutri-plate is currently available for purchase as www.Nutri-plate.com.
Healthy Adjustment in Teens Study (HATS)
While there is a wealth of research on adjustment difficulties of high functioning youth with autism spectrum disorders, less is known about the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence adjustment. In particular, while the positive impact of organized activity involvement has been well documented in typically developing youth, there is little known about whether these benefits also apply to high functioning youth on the autism spectrum. The aims of HATS include gaining a better understanding of these relations and the influence of social impairment, friendship quality, and executive functions on depressive symptoms and loneliness in this population. Finally, as part of this project, we are also evaluating the potential benefit of having and caring for pets on adjustment for this population. HATS data includes parent and self-report for more than 150 families throughout the United States. Data from this project has been presented at several conferences, including Society for Research on Adolescence in 2012 and the Society for Research in Child Development in 2013. Two manuscripts from this project are under review.
Global Brigades Project
Our lab recently extended its work to Latin America in a new partnership with Global Brigades (GB), the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. Mental health evaluation and services remain woefully inadequate in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), due in large part to a paucity of research examining mental health in individuals living in LMICs. This project aimed to gather preliminary data on risk factors (e.g., pain symptoms) and correlates of mental health outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety, activity limitations), as well as to explore potential buffers of adverse outcomes among adults in rural Hondurans. Survey measures were collected in rural Honduras in March of 2013 from 131 individuals ranging in age from 18 to 83 years visiting a medical brigade. Data from this project is now being prepared for publication and will be presented at national/international conferences.