Last month you may have heard about National Dairy Council’s (NDC) charge to find gaps to help determine future research needs in childhood nutrition, which led to the development of the Childhood Health and Nutrition Research Conference hosted together with the USDA Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center. The goal was to convene cross-disciplinary experts in childhood health and nutrition to examine the current state of nutrition science from benchtop to application, so we know where to focus future efforts.
The conference was set up in two panels; the first group of speakers, led in discussion by Dr. Bob Murray, covered the evidence-based science while the second group, moderated by Dr. Sarah Lee, explored what it takes to translate the science into effective outreach programs. Here are the key takeaways.
Evidence Based Panel
What we eat and when we eat impact many health related outcomes, and it starts with the mother and fetus. The panelists discussed the current state of nutrition research, explored questions that need to be answered and described how to best answer these questions:
- The importance of nutrition on childhood health begins prior to conception. Dr. Kartik Shankar outlined how maternal diet and obesity are well-recognized factors that influence the risk of childhood obesity and metabolic health.
- Health means more than just weight, it also encompasses behavior and cognitive function. Dr. Terry Pivik explained how dietary factors play an important role on the central nervous system, such as how eating breakfast can have positive impacts on learning and performance.
- Focusing on the behavioral aspects of healthy eating, Dr. Susan Johnson highlighted foods high in sweet and salty taste are easily accepted by children, while other taste profiles like bitter or bland are initially perceived to be less palatable. It takes an average of eight exposure attempts are needed for a child to eat a new food.
- Dr. Ben van Ommen stressed that health is not simply the absence of disease, we need to apply a measurable systems approach to health.
Intervening on childhood nutrition and obesity is complex. Translating evidence-based practices into real world settings requires innovative solutions and a collaborative, multifaceted approach. This panel took the audience from a single setting to a multi-setting approach to translating research:
- Dr. Katie Wilson shared school nutrition intervention programs and strategies that work well in the school environment, where children spend a large part of their day, and suggested where we might want to look for future inspiration.
- Dr. Jayne Fulkerson focused on initiatives outside of school; environmental-, community-, and home-based programs, suggesting that in order to effectively translate research we need to utilize a multi-setting approach.
- Dr. Chris Economos expanded on the idea of a systems approach – considering everything from behaviors and beliefs around nutrition and physical activity in various settings such as schools and communities to the policy.
- Marc Zimmerman presented on the importance of youth empowerment. He suggested involving youth in activities to enhance their own community helps them gain vital skills, responsibilities and the confidence necessary to develop into productive, healthy adults.
The work presented and discussed at the conference will help guide NDC in future research and outreach to expand our efforts into the childhood health and nutrition research field, and to continue our legacy of promoting research that improves the health of our nation.
If you are interested in learning more, each presentation will be available online, and credits for up to 8 CPE’s are available for registered dietitians.
Please contact me with questions or for additional information.