Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

Interventions for Obesity Prevention Targeting Young Children in At-Risk Environments: An Integrated Approach

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (Dr. Rodolfo Nayga) is leading a project in partnership with ACHI with funding from the Agricultural Food and Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program sponsored by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The primary objectives of this project include characterizing home and school food environments for children across the state, examining the relationship between these environments and children’s weight, and promoting increased access to and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the detailed topics that have been studied to date include the following.

The Effect of Food Deserts on the BMI of Young Schoolchildren

The researchers of this study looked to see if childhood obesity was linked to lack of access to healthy foods, which was measured by the presence of “food deserts” (areas where residents have limited access to healthy foods because of a lack of supermarkets or lack of resources to buy such foods). Preliminary findings suggest that there is a significant, though small, relationship between living in a food desert and higher body mass index (BMI) percentiles; children with BMI percentiles between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered overweight while those with a BMI percentile over 95 are considered to be obese. Primarily, students who move from a non-desert into a food desert neighborhood experience a significant increase in BMI. (Thomsen, Alviola, Nayga, & Rouse, 2013; Published July, 2015, American Journal of Agricultural Economics)

The Effect of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program on Childhood Obesity

The USDA created the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) in 2002 to increase fruit and vegetable consumption for students in the nation’s poorest elementary schools. The purpose of this study was to investigate the child weight outcomes for students who attend schools with a FFVP compared with students in schools without the program. Preliminary findings suggest that students who attend schools with a FFVP have 4.2 point decrease in BMI percentile scores than those who do not participate in FFVP. Considering the cost for each student in participating schools has been estimated to be only $50–75 per year, the FFVP has a relatively high benefit-to-cost ratio. (Qian, Nayga, Thomsen, & Rouse, 2013; publication forthcoming).

The Role of the Social Environment within Schools

There is evidence that obesity rates among older or referent peers can affect the weight of younger students. knowledge of peer effects such as these may help in designing school-based interventions to encourage healthier diets or increases in physical activity.


P.A. Alviola IV, R.M. Nayga,Jr., M.R. Thomsen, D. Danforth and J. Smartt. “The Effect of Fast-Food Restaurants on Childhood Obesity: A School-Level Analysis.” Economics and Human Biology (January 2014).

D. I, Zeng,  M.R. Thomsen, R.M. Nayga, Jr. and H.L.Rouse. “Convenience Stores and Childhood Obesity: A Panel Instrumental Variable Approach.” Paper presented at the Annual Meetingsof the Allied Social Science Associations, Boston, MA, January 3-5, 2015.

M.R. Thomsen, P.A. Alviola, R.M. Nayga, Jr. and H.L. Rouse. “The Effect of Food Deserts on the BMI of Young Schoolchildren.” Paper presented at 9th World Congress onHealth Economics: Celebrating Health Economics, Sydney,Australia, July 7-10, 2013.

Michael R. Thomsen, Rodolfo M. Nayga Jr., Pedro A. Alviola IV and Heather L.Rouse. “The Effect of Food Deserts on the Body Mass Index of Elementary Schoolchildren.” American Journal of AgriculturalEconomics 2015; doi: 10.1093/ajae/aav039

Y. Qian, R.M. Nayga, Jr.,  M.R. Thomsen and H.L. Rouse. “The Effect of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program on Childhood Obesity.” Selected paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, Washington, DC, August 4-6, 2013.

J, Asirvatham, R.M. Nayga, Jr. and M.R. Thomsen. “Peer-effects in Obesity Among Public Elementary Schoolchildren: A Grade-level Analysis.” Applied EconomicsPerspectives and Policy (September 2014):438-459.

Related Projects

The following ACHI Projects are related to this project.

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Arkansas Center for Health Improvement
1401 West Capitol
Suite 300 (Victory Building)
Little Rock, AR 72201