Studying Children with Spina Bifida

Children with spina bifida, a congenital condition of the spine and spinal cord, have a higher rate of obesity as compared to typically developing peers. One barrier to preventing obesity is accurately assessing body fat.

Michele Polfuss, PhD, Joint Research Chair in the Nursing of Children at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, is  leading the research on how to accurately assess body fat with a $3.6 million grant awarded from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within NIH.

CDC, the National Spina Bifida Patient Registry, and the Spina Bifida Association are able to  provide support.

The goal is to investigate methods of accurately measuring patients’ body composition in a clinical setting. According to Dr. Polfuss, “For people who are not disabled, health providers can get a fairly accurate assessment of a person’s weight status by simply measuring the person’s height and weight. This information is used to calculate a body mass index. This doesn’t work well for children with spina bifida who may be unable to stand or have orthopedic complications.”

The research aim is to find a feasible method for measuring body fat that can be conducted cost effectively and accurately in the clinic and provide better guidance to the family on nutritional intake recommendations to prevent and treat obesity.

The project team includes health professionals from four pediatric spina bifida programs at children’s hospitals across the U.S. These hospitals include Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Children’s Hospital of Alabama-Birmingham, and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh The hospitals are currently working with 232 children.

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