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Free symposium about health promotion for children with autism spectrum disorder, other developmental disabilities, hosted by UMass Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine


The Healthy Weight Research Network (HWRN), a national research network that is coordinated by UMass Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine, will host a free symposium at the Hilton Baltimore May 11 in Maryland. The symposium will share the latest information about obesity, physical activity, and eating behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD).

Promoting Healthy Weight in Children and Youth with ASD/DD: Current Research and Future Directions, will be held from 1:00-4:00 p.m. To attend this free symposium, please register online by May 1.

The symposium is co-directed by Linda Bandini, PhD, RD, director of Nutrition of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) Program at UMass Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center; Carol Curtin, PhD; director of the Shriver Center’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and LEND programs; and Aviva Must, PhD, dean of Public Health and Professional Degree Programs at Tufts University School of Medicine.

The following topics will be discussed:

Prevalence and Risk Factors for Obesity in Children with ASD/DD
Aviva Must, PhD, Morton A. Madoff professor, chair of Public Health and Community Medicine, dean, Public Health and Professional Degree Programs, Tufts University School of Medicine

This talk will share the most recent estimates of obesity prevalence derived from national and international studies. with an emphasis on data from representative samples.

Eating Behaviors and Parent Feeding Practices in Children with ASD
Tanja Kral, PhD, associate professor of Nursing, Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences, School of Nursing and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

The presentation will provide an overview of the current knowledge on feeding difficulties in children with ASD and a discussion of feeding practices that parents use to address feeding difficulties. Topics to be addressed include food selectivity, sensory sensitivity, and eating behaviors, and their possible contributions to the development of obesity in children with ASD.

Physical Activity Participation among Youth with ASD: What We Know
Heidi Stanish, PhD, associate professor, Department of Exercise and Health Sciences, UMass Boston

The current literature will be reviewed on physical activity participation among youth with ASD. Factors known to be associated with physical activity in this group will be reviewed, with a focus on our previous study comparing youth with ASD to typically developing peers.

Interventions Promoting Physical Activity and Weight Loss in Adolescents with DD
Lauren T. Ptomey, PhD, RD, LD, assistant research professor, Cardiovascular Research Institute, KU Medical Center, The University of Kansas

Two interventions promoting healthy lifestyles in adolescents with developmental disabilities, including ASD, will be reviewed. The first study will review a weight loss intervention comparing two different diets and utilizing technology. The second study will review a physical activity only intervention utilizing group exercise lessons delivered remotely.

Supporting Physical Activity and Recreation in the Community (SPARC): A Community-based Participatory Research Feasibility Study for Increasing Physical Activity with Adolescents with ASD
Richard Fleming, PhD, professor and Graduate Program director, Department of Exercise and Health Sciences, UMass Boston

The application of CBPR principles to develop, implement and evaluate a YMCA-based program designed to increase physical activity in adolescents with ASD will be described. The components of the SPARC program will be detailed and illustrated with data presented on changes in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity over time. Implications for next steps in research and dissemination will be discussed.

HWRN was established in July 2013 with funding from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal Child Health Bureau’s Division of Research.