The purpose of the MCH Research Network on Promoting Healthy Weight (HW-RN) among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other Special Health Care Needs is to establish an interdisciplinary research network that will lead and promote coordinated research activities related to promoting healthy weight among children and youth with autism spectrum disorders and other special health care needs. Special needs populations include, but are not limited to, children and youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, and spina bifida. Special needs populations have shown to be at increased risk for being overweight or obese and having obesity-related chronic and secondary health conditions. Areas of particular concern include, but are not limited to:
Need for better knowledge and understanding about the scope of overweight and obesity, key factors contributing to the possible increased risk, and obesity-related chronic and secondary health conditions among children and adolescents with special health care needs;
Obesity prevention and early intervention, including anticipatory guidance to parents and health care providers;
Improvement in health care delivery services, such as interdisciplinary team-based care; and
Healthy lifestyle promotion through innovative programs and research regarding the interacting physical, social, behavioral, and environmental determinants of overweight and obesity at various levels, including the individual, family, school, neighborhood, and larger community.
The Network will:
Be an interdisciplinary network of national experts that will identify gaps in knowledge and develop a research agenda through the use of evidence-based design to promote healthy weight by preventing and treating overweight and obesity among children and youth with ASD and other special health care needs. The interdisciplinary network of researchers must include those with expertise in pediatric obesity research and those with expertise in relevant special needs populations. Depending on the research agenda proposed, the network may also include experts in health education and promotion, epidemiology, health psychology, health services and administration;
Conduct research using existing large or population-based datasets and/or health records to improve the knowledge about the prevalence of overweight and/or obesity, key risk factors, and obesity-related chronic and secondary health conditions among children and youth with ASD and other special health care needs. The key risk factors include, but are not limited to, dietary intake; physical activity; sedentary behaviors; parenting styles and family characteristics; medication use; and community, demographic, and societal characteristics. The examples of obesity-related conditions are: asthma, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, depression, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, joint or bone pain, sleep apnea, low self-esteem, early maturation, etc.
Conduct formative work among children and adolescents with special health care needs to understand the perspective and experiences on excessive body weight; barriers to physical activity and healthy eating; psychological, biological, medical, social, and environmental influences on obesity and obesity-related health behaviors;
Identify effective approaches and/or test the initial efficacy, feasibility and acceptability of an intervention program designed to reduce excessive weight among children and youth with ASD and other special health care needs. A promising program should consider to adapt an existing successful program for children and adolescents without special health care needs and further tailor it for the special needs populations;
Identify opportunities and possibilities to include children or adolescents with special health care needs in ongoing large state-wide or national surveillance and health promotion programs;
Build the capacity to advance and implement critical research that will address the gaps and promote the research agenda identified by the Network, through both MCHB and other funding sources;
Develop a plan to ensure dissemination of Network findings through peer-reviewed publications, webinars, meetings, and other related activities; these activities should not only share research information and Network activities, but should also serve to facilitate the transfer of Network findings to broader audience such as researchers, health professionals, policy makers, educators, and the public, including family members of children with ASD and other special health care needs.
Consistent with HRSA’s mission as the access agency to provide services to underserved populations, applicants for the HW-RN should describe network activities that will address the needs of underserved populations, such as low-income, racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, individuals who have limited access to services, and/or other underserved populations as defined by the applicant.
The Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s intent is to ensure that research activities are responsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of special populations, that services are family-centered and accessible to consumers, and that the broadest possible representation of culturally distinct and historically underrepresented groups is supported through programs and projects sponsored by the MCHB.