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MedPage Today: Shriver Center researcher says few studies focus on obesity in people with intellectual, developmental disabilities

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Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities may face more risk factors for obesity than typically developing youths, but few studies have focused on obesity in those with disabilities, a researcher in UMass Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center told MedPage Today.

“The risk factors that affect typically developing children probably affect all children, but there may be additional risk factors for obesity for kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Linda Bandini, PhD, RD, associate professor of pediatrics at UMass Medical School, told MedPage Today. Those risk factors include individual food selectivity, exercise barriers and receiving food as a reward, she said in the June 3 article on strategies for weight control in patients with intellectual disabilities.

“Research has not been done to determine if these dietary and/or physical activity behaviors put (these children) at increased risk for obesity,” Bandini, director of nutrition in the Shriver Center’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) Program, told MedPage Today.

Research focused on obesity in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is “somewhat limited,” Bandini said in the article. However, a study on Obesity Prevention for Children with Developmental Disabilities by Bandini and other researchers at UMass Medical School, Tufts University and the University of North Carolina shows promise.

“Our pilot work suggests that a family-based intervention with nutrition, education, and behavioral intervention is a promising approach for weight loss in obese adolescents with (intellectual disabilities), but more research is needed,” Bandini said.

The Shriver Center has two nutrition-related pilot programs for youths with disabilities. Bandini is co-investigator on Health U, a program that works to help overweight teens and young adults with intellectual disabilities lose weight through group and individual counseling. The Children’s Mealtime Study focuses on children’s eating patterns, mealtime behaviors and parent feeding practices to enable researchers to develop strategies to help parents feed children. Carol Curtin, PhD, research assistant professor of UMass Medical School’s Family Medicine and Community Health and associate director of the Shriver Center, and Bandini are co-investigators on the study.

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