Current Initiatives

The Hassenfeld Institute hosts initiatives focused on key child health concerns.  For each Initiative, a team of experts implements and assesses innovative new approaches to address the targeted health issue. Along with Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Fitness Initiative, Autism, a Precision Medicine Approach, and Childhood Asthma Research Innovation Program, we will address additional significant child health issues in the future.

Autism Precision Medicine Program

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents many challenges for families, and national economic costs attributed to caring for children with ASDs were estimated at $11.5 billion in 2011.   Nationally, the prevalence of ASD among 8 year olds has been estimated to be as high as one out of every 68 children. In Rhode Island, the number of children with ASDs receiving special education services has increased dramatically, from only 30 children in 1993 to 2,240 in 2014. In 2009, a team of physicians, scientists, service providers, educators, and parents came together to form the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART).  RI-CART members share a strong belief that the best way to create healthier, happier lives for individuals with ASDs is to expand our knowledge.  In particular, further research is needed in the area of the genetics of ASDs and rare genetic conditions involving autism symptoms. To this end, a key component of RI-CART is the development of a registry of children and families affected by ASDs together with the collection of biological samples, thereby facilitating cutting-edge research to improve approaches to diagnosis and treatment.   

Childhood Asthma Research Innovation Program        

Approximately 9% of children in the US have asthma. When asthma is poorly controlled, it can affect all aspects of children’s functioning. The burden of asthma for children residing in urban areas, such as Greater Providence, is concerning: 25-50% of children in some urban school districts have asthma.  The Childhood Asthma Research Program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital comprises a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and clinicians who examine psychophysiological interactions, management behaviors and outcomes, and co-morbid conditions in children and adolescents with asthma using state-of- the art clinical and behavioral approaches.  Planned intervention projects include, a Rhode Island asthma collaborative to address pediatric disparities; identifying mechanisms contributing to asthma onset, control, and morbidity; and stress, epigenetics, and asthma onset.

Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Fitness Initiative

There is a well-documented paradox between societal focus on healthy nutrition, fitness, and physical activity and the epidemic numbers of children struggling to achieve a healthy lifestyle and weight.  Approximately 30% of middle school children in RI watch 3 or more hours of TV on a daily basis and an additional 39% spend 3 or more hours using the computer or watching videos. This is coupled with the fact that 38% of children in RI participate in physical activity < 3 days of the week.  Particularly concerning is the fact that children who are at greatest risk for inactivity and unhealthy eating habits are from minority and underprivileged backgrounds. The “blueprint” for a healthy lifestyle, including optimal diet and physical activity, is established in utero and further developed through infancy and childhood. A key to maintaining and improving the health of children in RI is identifying and intervening with mothers, maternal-child dyads, and families over the course of development. Rhode Island offers a unique and resource-rich environment for developing and implementing programs to both prevent and treat the problem of obesity in children.  Proximity to healthcare and community settings, the geographic stability of the population, and rich academic and medical collaborations  combine to make this an optimal setting for program develop.  We will be conducting three studies that will collectively make a significant contribution to the science of obesity treatment and prevention.