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March 12, 2004

ULM Teams up With Local Hospital to Study Body Fat in Children

The University of Louisiana at Monroe and Department of Kinesiology professor Dr. Lisa Colvin have partnered with Glenwood Regional Medical Center to study pediatric body composition. This study is a follow-up to the research Colvin began in 1993 while completing her doctorate at The University of Southern Mississippi, also in conjunction with Glenwood. In addition to providing an expert staff, Glenwood has offered $150,000 in services, including MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), to complete the project.

"This study will help us better understand how a child's body deposits fat, and will give us insights into the connection that fat deposition in childhood has with other disease processes associated with obesity such as diabetes and hypertension" explained Colvin. She also says this information will give clues as to where children deposit fat stores in their bodies and how those fat deposits may change locations over time, especially throughout the adolescent years.

Colvin has connected with 17 of the 23 subjects that participated in the original study in 1993. The original participants were chosen at random from interested individuals and their parents with no limiting factors, such as eating and exercise habits, which provided a broad sample of children in terms of body size, type and body composition.

Jeff Sylvester, Director of Radiology at Glenwood, who worked with Dr. Colvin on the original project, will be working with her again, adding to the consistency of the results. Although the MRI is not a typical method used to measure fat content, the images it provides give a clear, easily understandable reading of the body, making it the "gold standard" in comparison with other measurement devices.

The participants first have MR images taken, followed by skinfold tests, and hydrostatic weighing, which is one of the most accurate laboratory methods of determining the percent of body fat. In addition, ULM may soon have access to DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) imaging equipment, which is faster and more practical to use than the MRI. If this technology becomes available, Colvin hopes to be able to work in conjunction with local schools for her next project, allowing her to study a larger number of subjects at one time.

The bigger issue that the study is hoping to address is the overweightness and obesity epidemic in America, especially among children in the South. Studies show the percent of children who are overweight (defined as BMI-for-age at or above the 95th percentile of the CDC Growth Charts) continues to increase. Among children and teens ages 6-19, 15 percent (almost 9 million) are overweight according to the 1999-2000 data, or triple what the proportion was in 1980.

"We live in a super-sized society," Colvin observes. "Kids get accustom to eating large portions of food, and living a sedentary lifestyle that includes watching too much TV and spending many sedentary hours playing video games. They do not have enough physical activity to balance out the amount of calories they are putting in, thus increasing their body weight and percent fat."

She added that it is important to keep track of body composition in children in order to know how to be alert to the signs of overweightness or other hypokinetic (low activity) types of diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. She hopes that this study will help shed some light on the problem particularly in North Louisiana and South Arkansas.

Colvin would like to acknowledge Glenwood Regional Medical Center for their support, both financial and professional. "We just can't thank Glenwood enough for their contribution to the project. Without their help, there is no way this type of research would be possible."

If you would like more information or see the project in action, call Lisa Colvin at 342-1324.

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