Posted April 23, 2012

Obesity study focuses on healthy nutrition in group homes

For people with developmental disabilities, particularly those who live in a community group home, the prevalence of obesity can be significantly higher than in the general population. That’s why researchers from Temple’s Center for Obesity Research (CORE), together with United Cerebral Palsy of Central Pennsylvania (UCP Central PA), are exploring whether simple education focusing on healthy nutrition can aid these residents in losing weight.

Funded through a two-year, $400,000 grant from the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, the researchers are conducting a pilot study at 36 community group homes in the Harrisburg area. This study continues a previous federally funded study on developing simple projects to improve health among persons with developmental disabilities.

“An important feature of community homes is that they provide the residents with greater freedom of choice relative to more formal institutional settings,” said Mary Segal, a research scientist at CORE and the grant’s academic principal investigator. “However, in some of their choices, like diet and nutrition, people with disabilities — like people everywhere — tend to make poor choices.

“The community homes can have a lot of activity taking place, so it becomes essential to provide both residents and staff with important information about healthy lifestyles and nutrition in a way that is more tailored to their needs.”
-- Mary Segal, CORE research scientist

“The community homes can have a lot of activity taking place, so it becomes essential to provide both residents and staff with important information about healthy lifestyles and nutrition in a way that is more tailored to their needs,” she said.

“Helping residents and staff learn to make healthy choices in menu planning, shopping, preparation and portion size is critical to their health and enjoyment of life,” said Jeff Cooper, CEO of UCP Central PA and the project’s community principal investigator. “Dr. Segal has developed the study so that both residents and staff will benefit.”

Segal said that these community homes typically have three to four residents, with around-the-clock support staff. Staff are also being considered subjects for the study and must be present for the project’s educational training workshops.

“We know from our previous work that there are typically four staff members who are involved in the food shopping and preparation in these community home settings,” she said. “If one of them isn’t on board with the educational program, this can hinder the efforts of the other staff and the residents in the home.”

The 36 homes participating in this nine-month (six months of intervention plus three months of follow-up) study have been divided into three sets of 12:

• One set of homes receives colorful educational materials, including plates that illustrate healthy portion servings.

• One set receives the educational materials, plus a series of 11 onsite educational workshops on the importance of good nutrition and healthy weight, and ways to achieve these.

• One set serves as a control group, whose residents are measured during the study period. They will receive the educational materials at the study’s conclusion.

Segal said that the study will measure the impact of the educational materials and workshops on residents’ weight; home food purchases based on shopping receipts; residents’ and care staff’s knowledge about good nutrition; and residents’ and staff’s perceptions of the usefulness and feasibility of the study.

Segal emphasized that the only thing residents agreeing to participate in the study have to do is to consent to being weighed. “The information being provided is strictly educational; the residents control their own decisions about eating according to the practices of the individual homes,” she said.

Recruiting for the study was conducted last fall. The nine-month study period is being staggered, with the first homes assessed for baseline measurements last November. The final nine-month assessments will be conducted near the end of 2012.

Segal said measurements occur at three-month intervals over the course of the nine months the study is being conducted at a particular home. She said the researchers expect to analyze their data and issue a final report when the grant concludes in March 2013.

The project is one of several that have been funded through Temple and UCP Central PA’s Academic and Community-Based Participatory Research partnership.