Healthy Weight Initiative to Examine Self-Regulation and Infant Growth

Pregnant mother and child holding hands

The Healthy Weight Initiative is preparing to launch a study that will examine how early markers of self-regulation, which have been found to be related to weight gain in older children, relate to infant growth. Self-regulation is a broad construct that includes the ability to control thoughts, emotions and actions to achieve a desired outcome. For this study, the team will enroll both mothers and their children.

“Behaviors that are established early in life can potentially be carried forth to later childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and we know that parenting is a critical mechanism for a lot of behavioral and health outcomes for young children,” said Stephanie Parade, Ph.D., director of early childhood research at Bradley Hospital.

Dr. Parade and Elissa Jelalian, Ph.D., co-lead of the Healthy Weight Initiative, will recruit mothers enrolled in the Hassenfeld Institute’s prenatal cohort to examine maternal anthropometrics, maternal self-regulation and inhibitory control. 

“The focus on dyadic regulation, assessed both behaviorally and physiologically, is a novel piece of our research. We’re putting it all together in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Dr. Parade said.

The study will make use of assessments that are performed on newborns by the Hassenfeld Institute’s research team. One is the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, or NNNS, which is a brief exam that assesses an infant’s reflexes, movements and responses to stimuli. The exam is often used by the Autism Initiative to screen for early markers for later autism diagnosis. 

“The Hassenfeld Institute is leveraging data that was collected as part of my study because it has relevance in other areas,” said Stephen Sheinkopf, Ph.D., who leads the autism study.

Dr. Parade is excited about the opportunity to use the results of this study to supplement interventions designed to support the parent-child relationship.

“What we learn may inform not only the next research study but also the development of new interventions, or even refinement of existing parenting interventions, to support healthy weight and other health outcomes for children,” Dr. Parade said.

Learn more about the Healthy Weight Initiative.