Maternal & Child Public Health Research

Maternal and child public health research is concerned with the health of women, infants, children and families, including youth health behavior and promotion. EpiCH’s research focuses on socially vulnerable populations and environments, behaviors, and policies that affect their long-term health and well-being.

Highlighted Research

Genetics of Infant Growth and Later Obesity

Investigators: Ellen W. Demerath, John Blangero, Joanne Curren, Bradford Towne, Stefan Czerwinski
Funding Agency: NICHD
This project uses serial growth and maturity data from 650 subjects in the Fels Longitudinal Study who have been followed from birth to adolescence in order to examine the relationship between rapid rate of growth in infancy to later obesity risk, and to test the hypothesis that there are genetic influences on infant growth and obesity in adolescence using genetic linkage analysis and SNP association testing.

New Moves: Obesity Prevention Among Adolescent Girls

Investigators: Dianne Neumark-Sztainer,  Mary T. Story
Funding Agency: NIH/NIDDK
New Moves is a school-based program designed to promote increased physical activity, healthy eating behaviors, and a positive self-image among sedentary adolescent girls at risk for overweight. It is being offered to high-school girls for credit during school hours as an alternative to the regular physical education program. The program includes physical activity, nutritional guidance, social support, individual counseling, and maintenance components. Social Cognitive Theory is being used to guide the program development, implementation, and evaluation. The intervention focuses on modifying personal, socio-environmental, and behavioral factors.
– Visit the New Moves website for more information.

Pregnancy Feelings and Attitudes Among Native American Youth

Investigators: Wendy Hellerstedt, Ann Garwick
Funding Agency: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Association of Schools of Public Health
To identify correlates of positive and negative feelings about pregnancy and childbearing among native youth and understand the nature of pregnancy and childbearing intention among young native females and males. See website:

Promoting a healthy body image among elementary school children (V.I.K. Very Important Kids)

Investigators: Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Jess Haines
Funding Agency: Blue Cross/Blue Shield
The objective of this study is to describe the development, implementation, and evaluation of a pilot program, V.I.K. (Very Important Kids), designed to reduce weight-related teasing, dieting behaviors, and media internalization, and to improve body image in order to prevent the spectrum of weight-related disorders. The V.I.K. intervention was developed as a collaborative project involving the YMCA of Greater Saint Paul – East Branch, John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School, the University of Minnesota – Division of Epidemiology, and the Illusion Theatre. The intervention ran for one year and included four components; 1) an after-school program for students, 2) school outreach activities focused on changing social norms regarding teasing and weight; 3) a family outreach component; and 4) a theater program.

National Maternal Nutrition Intensive Course

Investigators: Jamie S. Stang
Funding Agency: United State Dept. of Agriculture
To advance the knowledge and skill levels of health professionals serving economically disadvantaged women and families, before, during, and after pregnancy.

Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls – Field Center

Investigators: Leslie A. Lytle,  Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Cheryl L. Perry, Kathryn Schmitz, Martha Kubik
Funding Agency: NIH/NHLBI
This intervention study will develop and evaluate school and community linked approaches to reduce the decline in physical activity in adolescent girls. It is a multicentered trial, being conducted in 36 schools in 6 field centers across the nation.

The Teens Eating for Energy and Nutrition at School (TEENS) Study

Investigators: Leslie A. Lytle,  Mary T. Story,  Cheryl Perry, Martha Kubik
Funding Agency: NCI
The Teens Eating for Energy and Nutrition at School (TEENS) study was a school-based intervention study funded by the National Cancer Institute with the goal of increasing middle school students’ intakes of fruits, vegetables and lower fat foods. A student survey was included as an evaluation tool and includes questions assessing student tobacco use. The survey was administered to a cohort of students (approximately 3800) at three time points. The tobacco items are being analyzed with other variables assessing the health behaviors of adolescents.

Assessing Health and Eating in Adolescents with Diabetes (AHEAD)

Investigators: Dianne Neumark-Sztainer,  Mary T. Story,  Joan Patterson, Joe Sockalosky,
Funding Agency: Children’s Hospital and Clinics
Unhealthy weight control behaviors pose risks for the general adolescent population. They have the potential, however, to be particularly harmful for youth with chronic illness. Previous studies by the investigators have found that youth with chronic illness are more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors than youth without chronic illness. The question arises as to why youth with chronic illness are at increased risk for unhealthy weight control practices and what can be done to decrease their likelihood for engaging in these behaviors.

Ecologic Study of Children’s Required PE and Obesity

Investigators: Kathryn H. Schmitz
Funding Agency: MNOC
This study will compare the BMI and body fat % of 4th grade children in 10 Minnesota schools that have the highest minutes of PE programming compared to the 10 schools with the least minutes of PE programming to assess whether there are difference in the prevalence of obesity in these 2 sets of schools.

Reducing Children’s Exposure to Tobacco Smoke Pollution (BEST for Baby Project)

Investigators: Deborah Hennrikus,  Harry Lando,  Larry An, Phyllis Pirie, Raymond Boyle
Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute
Children’s exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) results in significant mortality and morbidity and excess medical care expenditures. Counseling parents of new infants about how to reduce their children’s ETS exposure (without necessarily quitting smoking themselves) has been shown to be a promising strategy for decreasing infants’ ETS exposure. For many parents, it also could be the first step in quitting smoking. This project is a five-year clinical trial funded as part of the University of Minnesota Trandisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center that is designed to test this harm reduction strategy and examines the viability of its systematic use by a managed care organization. The study is a collaboration among the University of Minnesota, two health plans, HealthPartners and Medica, and WIC.

Young Adult Longitudinal Trends in Antioxidants (YALTA)

Investigators: David R. Jacobs, Myron Gross
Funding Agency: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
YALTA is an ancillary study to CARDIA. Dr. Myron Gross’s laboratory measured serum antioxidants using frozen blood from most CARDIA participants. The blood was collected at the CARDIA examinations of years 0, 7 and 10. The next five years of study will look at trends in the antioxidants, measure various oxidative stress indicators, and various markers of oxidative damage. These will be correlated with existence of coronary calculation to better understand mechanisms underlying early atherosclerosis.