Managing a child’s weight hinges on understanding their daily energy expenditure. Children with certain developmental disabilities may face two to three times the risk of obesity compared to their peers because it’s often difficult to accurately measure how many calories they burn in a day.

Michele Polfuss, UWM associate professor of nursing, was awarded $1.48 million in federal funding to lead a team of researchers from Children’s Wisconsin, UW-Madison, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Massachusetts to examine energy expenditure and weight-related behaviors in children with Down syndrome.

This award builds on her current multisite study that is examining energy expenditure and accurate assessment of body composition of children with spina bifida in a clinical setting.

“If a child with Down syndrome eats the same meal as their typically developing peer, over time, they may gain weight due to a decreased energy expenditure, said Polfuss, who is also Joint Research Chair in the Nursing of Children, a position jointly supported by UWM and Children’s Wisconsin. “The problem is that we are not certain how much of a decreased energy expenditure there is.”

This research project will identify energy expenditure for children with Down syndrome based on age and sex and further understanding of weight-related behaviors related to nutrition, sleep and activity.

Explaining the difference is more complex than simply gauging physical activity, Polfuss added. Children with Down syndrome have different body compositions that can make them more susceptible to weight gain. They also may have hormone imbalances that can affect their weight.

This study will provide health care professionals and families with the information they need to help their children develop a healthy weight.

Funding is provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The original grant to investigate children with spina bifida was also awarded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Read the full press release here