New Grant Forms Partnership Between UC Merced And Nonprofits to Fight Obesity

By Ana Ibarra, Merced Sunstar

UC Merced and the Merced County Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program have formed a new partnership that aims to further efforts in reducing obesity, especially within the county’s Latino families.

A $90,000 three-year grant, awarded to UC Merced from the Child Health and Human Development Institute of the National Institutes of Health, will allow researchers to go out and engage with community members who are affected by obesity.

According to Jan Wallander, a professor of psychological sciences at UC Merced, an opportunity like this will give researchers a better understanding of the challenges faced by lower-income communities.

“We are increasingly recognizing that to help people, we have to get out of the campus and work in the community where people live,” Wallander said.

“The NIH has also recognized that there are some limitations to university-based research,” Wallander said. “We want to learn how our research applies to real lives, so we decided, ‘Why not actually do the research in the community?’”

This grant will help with developing the stages of a long-term project. The first step is to form partnerships with local nonprofits, agencies and businesses on the forefront of health and Latino-related issues, he explained.

The Regional Obesity Prevention Program has led several efforts to push for healthier eating and physical activity in low-income communities, making them an ideal partner, Wallander said.

One example of its continuous work is the youth engagement program, which opens up Farmdale Elementary after school hours for families to exercise in a safe space.

Claudia Corchado, a Regional Obesity Prevention Program manager, said receiving support from UC Merced can be beneficial to communities across the Central Valley, where obesity has been a problem for years.

“We want to identify the best practices to replicate them throughout the county and share them with neighboring areas,” Corchado said.

“The key to this is that we now have a research university that is going to be behind us,” she added. “We want researchers to understand the challenges that our communities face when it comes to accessing healthier foods and safe environments for children to exercise.”

In addition to Wallander, four other professors who have also done extensive research on public health issues will also be collaborating on the project.

The professors have examined topics including food access; how individuals communicate about health; the impact of social statuses on obesity; and children’s and adolescents’ experiences in dealing with obesity.

Corchado said an advisory group is set to meet in December, and hopes that outreach to the community will start by next year.