SF State News {University Communications}

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News Release


SF State researchers take aim at obesity in youth

University’s Health Equity Institute to explore smartphones as a tool to manage weight


SAN FRANCISCO, March 3, 2010 -- Researchers at San Francisco State University will participate in a two-year project to test the use of smart phones to manage the food choices and eating habits of 100 overweight teens from low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The researchers, from SF State's Health Equity Institute, are one of five teams from universities and clinical settings across the U.S. selected to explore how patient-recorded "ODL's," observations of daily living (what they eat, how they sleep, how their medications make them feel, etc.) integrated into their care processes can improve the treatment of chronic medical problems. The project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which awarded $480,000 to SF State for its part of the initiative.

The work is part of Project HealthDesign: Rethinking the Power and Potential of Personal Health Records, a national program developed by RWJF to explore how personal technology can help people become more informed patients and better consumers of health care. Each institution is focusing on a different chronic health problem and the information collected will be interpreted and acted upon by patients as well as clinicians in real-world health care settings. This research follows earlier Project HealthDesign work, which revealed that the data needed to inform day-to-day health decisions came less from information contained in people’s official medical records than from information gained by monitoring health in everyday life.

"We know patients want better relationships with their clinicians and to make the most of their time during a doctor's visit," said Stephen Downs, S.M., assistant vice president for RWJF's Health Group. "Through Project HealthDesign, the patients and the clinicians will be working together to collect and interpret insights from the patient’s everyday life."

The SF State research team, led by Katherine Kim, biology professor in residence at the Health Equity Institute and Christina Sabee, assistant professor of communication studies, will collaborate with the providers at a San Francisco General Hospital clinic where the youth are at risk of depression and are being treated for weight issues. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 jumped from 7 to 19 percent between a 1976-1980 investigation and a 2003-04 study. The percentage of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 19 tripled from 5 to 17 percent. The federal government has since set a national goal to significantly lower these percentages.

"We hope the patients will embrace this new smart phone application to capture information relevant to their health goals, like snapshots of the food they are eating, their social networks and other things not typically shared with their doctors," Kim said. "This will put the control of health decisions in the hands of the patient and extend the support of the clinicians beyond the clinic’s boundaries."

The work begins this year when the SF State team and partners at San Francisco General Hospital design and refine their approaches. Patients will then be selected to participate in next year's phase involving the use of smartphones.

The information recorded by patients on their phones will be entered on a secure Web site where the researchers, clinicians and patients can monitor the daily observations. Patient confidentiality will be observed throughout the study.

The Project HealthDesign program will provide legal and regulatory compliance support to grantees, which will contribute to the public discourse on the legal and regulatory aspects of capturing observations of daily living. The program will also develop resources around the issues regarding use and safe integration of the patient observations as well as specifically advise grantee teams on the applicable law and regulations that may alter the consequences of data-sharing between patients and clinicians.

RWJF has committed a total of $9.5 million in grant funds and technical assistance to Project HealthDesign since it began in 2006. The Project is led by a team of experts working in health information technology and patient-centered care at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Project HealthDesigns supported by RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, which supports innovative ideas and projects that can lead to significant breakthroughs in the future of health and health care. 

All of the research teams will provide frequent updates about their work through the Project HealthDesign blog and other interactive features. For more information about Project HealthDesign or to link to the blogs, visit www.projecthealthdesign.org  

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San Francisco State University is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University's more than 140,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. The Health Equity Institute, founded in 2006, adopts interdisciplinary approaches to reduce health inequities through innovative research, interventions, training and communications. Visit www.healthequity.sfsu.edu

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. The Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio supports innovative ideas and projects that may lead to important breakthroughs in health and health care. Projects in the Pioneer Portfolio are future-oriented and look beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. Visit www.rwjf.org/pioneer

Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the nation's oldest and most comprehensive public research universities, with more than 41,000 enrolled students participating in 136 undergraduate degrees, 155 master's programs and 110 doctoral programs, and a research enterprise that generates more than $700 million in annual extramural support.




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