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March 15, 2017

UVA Receives $1.9 Million Contract to Study Childhood Obesity Treatments in Dan River Region

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School of Medicine researchers have received $1.9 million from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to study the effectiveness of two childhood obesity treatment programs in the Dan River Region. This region – which includes Danville, Va., Pittsylvania County, Va., and Caswell County, N.C. – has childhood obesity rates about three times higher than state averages.

Two evidence-based childhood obesity treatment programs, iChoose and Family Connections, will be tested. Both have been tested in other communities and have been shown to help children and parents lose weight and improve physical activity and nutrition behaviors. Both programs focus on weight-related behaviors, the home environment and parent role modeling. The iChoose program targets both parents and children and includes educational classes, exercise classes, support calls for parents and a newsletter for children. The Family Connections program targets only the parents and includes educational classes and support calls.

The primary goal of this three-year study is to compare how well the programs work in helping overweight and obese children ages 8-12 lose weight. The impact on family eating, physical activity and parents’ weight will also be measured in the 174 families expected to enroll in the study. Another key purpose is to understand how well each program fits within local healthcare and community systems. The PCORI Community Advisory Board includes the Children’s Health Care Center, Danville Parks and Recreation, Danville Public Schools, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Danville Area, Piedmont Access to Health Services and several academic partners. A parent advisory team also will help guide and assist with the research.

“We are excited to be partnered with committed healthcare and community partners and a parent advisory team,” said Jamie Zoellner, PhD, RD, an associate professor in UVA School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences and the study’s co-lead investigator.  “Our ultimate goal is to determine which program works best for the children and their families, as well as which program has the most potential to be sustained by local systems after the research has ended. When local evidence is available to stakeholders and parents, informed decisions can be made to help reduce childhood obesity disparities in this region.”

Zoellner will be joined in the study by co-lead investigator Paul Estabrooks, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health at University of Nebraska Medical Center. Virginia Tech faculty and students will also be participating.

“This project was selected for PCORI funding not only for its scientific merit and commitment to engaging patients and other stakeholders, but also for its potential to fill an important gap in our health knowledge and give people information to help them weigh the effectiveness of their care options,” said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, MD, MPH. “We look forward to following the study’s progress and working with the University of Virginia to share the results.”

UVA’s award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract.



PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010. Its mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed healthcare decisions. For more information about PCORI’s funding, visit .

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