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Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities sought for mealtime study

Researchers at UMass Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center are seeking children with intellectual and dev

elopmental disabilities (IDD) ages 3 to 8 and their parents in order to better understand how children with IDD and their families experience mealtimes compared to typically developing children of the same ages.

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The Children’s Mealtime Study is focused on children’s eating patterns, mealtime behaviors, and parent feeding practices; in understanding these behaviors, researchers can work to develop interventions that lead to greater success in feeding children.

“Mealtimes can be a challenge in many families. However, very little research about this issue is being done with children with IDD,” said Carol Curtin, PhD, research assistant professor of Family Medicine & Community Health and associate director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at UMass Medical School. She is a co-investigator on the study.

Children participating in the Children’s Mealtime Study attend a visit with a parent or guardian at a convenient time for the family, including evenings and weekends, in a comfortable location that can include a participant’s home, local library, or the UMass Medical School offices in Charlestown or Worcester. The visit is generally 2-3 hours but can be divided into two shorter visits. During the in-person study visit, a cognitive test is administered to the child. In addition, the parent or guardian is interviewed about the child’s development and behavior and fills out questionnaires about the child’s eating and mealtime behavior, family feeding practices, their own personal eating preferences, and the child’s leisure activity. Both the child and parent or guardian are weighed and measured.

At the end of the visit, the parent or guardian is taught how to keep a food record by a registered dietitian. The parent is asked to keep the food record for three days and to track all the food the child eats. If there are other adults in the home, they will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about their eating preferences as well as report their height and weight.

Parents or guardians receive up to $85 in gift cards and children receive a $15 gift card as compensation for their participation in the study.

The Children’s Mealtime Study is part of a larger research program at the Shriver Center that focuses on health promotion in children with IDD with the goal of understanding this population’s unique needs and developing tailored interventions to support them and their families to ensure optimal health and well-being.

“These children may present some unique challenges for parents at mealtimes, but we have very little data to understand how mealtime behaviors, parenting practices, and eating patterns are inter-related,” Curtin said. “With the information we gather from the Children’s Mealtime Study, we hope to add to our understanding of these factors, with the ultimate goal of developing supportive strategies to assist parents.”

Individuals interested in participating should contact the Children’s Mealtime Study at 774-455-6521 or send an email to: mealtimes@umassmed.edu

The Children’s Mealtime Study is funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services. UMass Medical School IRB Docket # # H-00001420

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