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ACH researchers hoping to change the future of obesity in America by studying infants

Dr. Elizabet Borsheim, PhD, is the co-principal investigator at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute studying how development during infancy affects childhood obesity. (Photo: KATV)

Researchers at Arkansas Children's Hospital are digging deeper into a problem that hits close to home in the Natural State.

Scientists at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute and Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center will use a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health over the next two years to study how development during infancy affects childhood obesity.

The research starts inside ACNC, where 300 babies and their mothers will go through several different tests - measuring both fat distribution and energy expenditure - all in the interest of preventing future generations from becoming obese.

"They actually get in here in a swimsuit," said Jill Harsch, clinical coordinator for the study, as she describes the testing machine called the "Bod Pod".

"It uses air displacement to determine body fat. So they sit in there for about three minutes, breathe normally and then they get out and it gives us a percent body fat count."

The results from the various tests will be compiled in part by the study's co-principal investigator Dr. Elizabet Borsheim, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at UAMS, who works out of Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Statistics regarding obesity rates for infants ages 0-2 are practically non-existant.

Borsheim and her team of researchers are interested to look at how small or large the test babies become, but they're more interested in what exactly influences weight gain in infants and at what time during the rapid growth phase before age two could those circumstances be most influential.

"What factors of the weight are of importance? How do the babies put on weight and where is the fat deposited," said Borsheim, while describing what she hopes two years of testing will find.

One of the tests will analyze the test babies' urine, in the process identifying isotopes that will determine how much fat a baby burns. The babies are outfitted with "high-tech pedometers" that monitor activity. By combining test results from the Moxus machine at ACH, which measures energy expenditure at rest, Harsch said, "we can figure out how many calories the test subject actually needs to live."

Harsch, Borsheim and the study's other co-principal investigator Dr. Aline Andres, PhD, all hope to find possibly critical windows of development that may be able to determine when and if a child is at an increased risk of developing obesity.

"Through that knowledge, we will be able to develop effective and optimal intervention strategies," said Borsheim.

The mothers of the 300 newborn infants participating in the study have been being monitored since before their pregnancies, as a part of ACNC's "Glowing Study". Researchers will combine the results from both studies to develop a better picture of how children gain weight.

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