Two faculty members in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business recently won a grant that will be used to help fight teen obesity in the local community. Elizabeth Moore, associate professor of marketing, and Corey Angst, assistant professor of management, received the Rodney F. Ganey Community-Based Research Grant in the amount of $7,000 to support their study of the role of personalized information technology interventions in teen obesity management.
Moore and Angst’s project brings together not only their respective research expertise in childhood obesity and health information technology, but it focuses on two other national trends – a looming crisis in national health and the increasing incorporation of technology into average lifestyles.
“If a child is obese, there is an 80 percent chance of being obese as an adult,” said Moore. “And with obesity, individuals are likely to suffer from a range of serious health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. If the current trends continue, America is facing a massive health-care problem.”
Even though obesity has moved to the forefront of public consciousness in many ways, using innovations in information technology to impact health and lifestyle choices is getting very little research attention right now, said Angst.
“Yet technology is so ubiquitous. This project is really all about the information technology piece,” he added. “Kids are interested in technology; they’re comfortable with it. Almost all teens, even from low-income families, have cell phones.”
The project, slated to launch in June, will use cell phones, text messaging and social networking sites such as Facebook to reach out to adolescents in the city of South Bend. The idea is that at-risk teens can be contacted with messaging to encourage better health habits through media with which they are very comfortable.
The researchers are working with Memorial Family Medicine, a local medical practice that serves primarily inner-city, very low-income families. For the study, Memorial Family Medicine physicians will identify a group of underserved teens who either have a high body mass index, indicating obesity, or are considered “at-risk” due to family and environmental conditions. Over a period of six months, Moore and Angst will collect both self-reported and clinically collected health data from subjects randomly assigned to a treatment or a control group. The interventions will range from text messages to the traditional brochure-based obesity literature.
What messages will be delivered and how – whether the teen will receive a personalized text message from a doctor, or perhaps coaching from a Facebook page – is yet to be determined. Since there is so little established research in this area, Moore and Angst will have to originate most of the procedures, based on studying the culture and lifestyles of their subjects.
Moore is an expert in the area of marketing to children. She recently edited and compiled four studies examining the interface of food marketing, childhood obesity and public policy. In a 2007 article authored with Victoria Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Moore explored the expanded reach of advertisers through Web sites specifically designed for children.
Angst conducts research on the transformational effect of technology usage, particularly in the healthcare industry. He has investigated the diffusion of disruptive healthcare innovations and the relationship to financial value and quality of care. Angst has conducted research and consulted in the health-care information technology domain for many large multinational companies and the federal government.
The Ganey grant received by Moore and Angst was one of three “mini-grants” intended to support faculty-student-community research partnerships addressing a social challenge faced by community organizations. The results of their project will help Memorial Family Medicine better address the health needs of its adolescent population.