ICHP Faculty Member Receives NIH K01 Grant to Develop Weight Loss Intervention for Teens

Photo of Dr. Michelle Cardel,Michelle Cardel, Ph.D., M.S., R.D., received a National Institutes of Health K01 Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to develop a weight loss intervention for teenagers using a behavioral approach that has already been successful with adults.

Obesity affects some 14 million teens in the United States, placing them at lifelong risk for psychological and health challenges.  Unfortunately, weight loss interventions currently available to teenagers are only marginally effective, according to Cardel, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics and a faculty member in UF’s Institute for Child Health Policy.

“Teenagers who participate in weight-loss interventions tend to lose only modest amounts of weight,” said Cardel, an obesity and nutrition scientist and registered dietitian. “Many who do manage to lose weight during an intervention often regain it after the intervention ends.”

Cardel’s research focuses on understanding factors that contribute to the development of obesity and implementing programs to treat obesity. With support from the 5-year, $782,234 grant, Cardel plans to develop and test what is known as an acceptance-based therapy weight loss intervention to help teenagers who are struggling with excessive weight gain and obesity.

According to Cardel, acceptance-based therapy focuses on mindfulness and improving an individual’s awareness and acceptance of negative thoughts and feelings, rather than attempting to change the thoughts and feelings themselves.

“This therapy teaches that your thoughts and feelings do not need to dictate your eating or physical activity behavior,” said Cardel. “For example, the therapy includes a focus on the things we can control versus the things we cannot control. We cannot control our cravings for ice cream, as cravings are a normal part of the human experience. However, we can make the choice not to buy ice cream at the grocery store. Thus, when the craving kicks in, it is easier to make the choice not to eat ice cream because it is not available in the home.”

The approach has been shown to be a highly effective weight loss strategy in adults, resulting in reductions of more than 13 percent of body weight over a one-year period. Acceptance-based therapies have also been successfully used for treating other medical and behavioral issues in teenagers, including high-risk sexual behavior, pain management, and anorexia.

Weight loss interventions targeting teens frequently do not incorporate techniques that support the development of impulse control, an essential skill for adhering to a healthy diet and regular physical activity, according to Cardel.

“Teaching teens impulse control will be an important part of helping them achieve their diet and physical activity goals,” Cardel said.

For the study, Cardel plans to recruit 130 teens, who will engage in focus groups to help inform the development of the intervention, or participate in the treatment by either attending in-person sessions or receiving mailed handouts providing nutritional and physical activity education. These educational sessions will also seek to build participants’ skills in goal setting, problem solving, self-monitoring, and decision-making.

The National Institutes of Health established the K01 awards to support early-career research scientists seeking advanced research training and additional experience. The program provides support and protected time for an intensive, supervised career development experience in the biomedical, behavioral, or clinical sciences.

Cardel will work closely with a multidisciplinary mentorship team throughout the duration of her award: David Janicke, Ph.D., ABPP, professor and associate chair in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at UF; Tom Pearson, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Epidemiology at UF and the Executive Vice President for Research and Education at the UF Health Sciences Center; Troy Donahoo, M.D., FTOS, clinical associate professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at UF; Matthew Gurka, Ph.D., a biostatistician and professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics and associate director of the Institute for Child Health Policy at UF; and Meghan Butryn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of Research in the Center for Weight, Eating, and Lifestyle Science (WELL Center) at Drexel University.