Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

U of I researchers receive USDA grant to develop childhood obesity intervention programs

Published April 6, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois researchers have been awarded a USDA grant that aims to decrease childhood obesity rates in Hispanic populations.

The grant, funded under the 2014 Farm Bill through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) for nearly $500,000, intends to continue support up to five years for a total of $3.4 million.

The program, Abriendo Caminos, is a six-week workshop series that promotes healthy dietary behavior patterns and basic knowledge of nutrition; positive family interactions, including shared family mealtimes; and active living in low-literacy, low-income Hispanic families. It specifically targets 6- to 18-year-old children of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage in five locations across the country.

Abriendo Caminos was developed by two faculty members in the U of I’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. The program is directed by Margarita Teran-Garcia, a U of I assistant professor of nutrition and Extension specialist for Hispanic health programs. Angela Wiley, a U of I associate professor in family studies, co-directs the project.

Affiliated with Abriendo Caminos at other sites are Amber Hammons at California State University, Fresno; Kimberly Greder of Iowa State University; Maria L. Plaza and Nancy J. Correa at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez; and Sylvia Crixell of Texas State University.

The research team intends to generate a diverse community of scholars who will develop and disseminate programs to decrease gaps in health inequality, including Hispanic university students, who will meet the specific needs of this population.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in announcing the funding, said that one-third of American children are overweight or obese, making this issue one of the greatest health challenges facing our nation.

Teran-Garcia stressed that Spanish-speaking families are at increased risk of obesity and its associated metabolic diseases. “Abriendo Caminos has been successful in changing the behaviors that lead to childhood obesity in this growing segment of the U.S. population,” she said.

“Our preliminary findings indicate that participants in Abriendo Caminos eat more fruits and vegetables and drink less sugary beverages after participating in the program,” Wiley said.

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