Parenting has always been tough, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made ensuring the health of young children even more challenging.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected obesity-related dietary behaviors and weight outcomes among Connecticut young children? Further, what can we do to support optimal infant feeding and health practices among Connecticut parents?
To help answer these questions, researchers from the University of Connecticut have been awarded $1 million in funding from the Connecticut Department of Public Health for a new project to study how infant feeding practices such as breastfeeding changed throughout the pandemic and how these changes affected children’s health and weight outcomes.
The study, led by Tatiana Andreyeva, Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR), will employ a mixed-methods approach utilizing a wide range of data sources. These include electronic medical records from a partnering healthcare organization, retail scanner data on grocery sales, Natality data from the Vital Statistics, administrative data from the Connecticut Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and state-specific surveillance data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS). Additionally, new data will be collected through surveys targeting postpartum women of diverse backgrounds and Connecticut-based large employers.
Breastfeeding is an established predictor of reduced risk for childhood obesity, among other important health and economic benefits to women and children. The pandemic had major impacts on the labor market, access to lactation support services and anxiety and stress, which all could affect breastfeeding. Dr. Andreyeva and her team aim to establish these impacts and their implications for children’s health and health disparities. Ultimately, their goal is to identify proper policy responses to improve breastfeeding outcomes and support CT families in raising healthy kids.
Co-investigators for the study include Dr. Marlene Schwartz (Director of the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health), Fran Fleming Milici (Director of Marketing Initiatives at the UConn Rudd Center), and Dr. Nancy Trout (Primary Care Physician at Connecticut Children’s). Several UConn students have joined the research team, including Luis Seoane-Estruel (Ph.D. Student, ARE), Mengjie Li (Ph.D. Student, ARE), and Allison Martin (Undergraduate Student, Nutritional Sciences).