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Aug. 24, 2023

$5.8M grant to address problem behaviors in Michigan preschoolers

More than one in six preschoolers in the United States has a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder, with higher rates among low-income and economically marginalized communities.

A new program led by Michigan State University College of Nursing researcher Jiying Ling to increase behavioral well-being in preschool age children, thanks to a National Institutes of Health grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, could total $5.8 million over five years, based on meeting certain milestones in the first year. The full grant would be the largest received by a single researcher in the college’s 73-year history.

The program, which will begin with a pilot trial in February 2024, will target 50 Head Start daycare centers in urban and rural areas across Michigan and will focus on three components:

  • School-based mindfulness program to equip preschoolers with knowledge and skills in mindful eating and movement (e.g., yoga, deep breathing exercises)
  • Home-based mindfulness program to increase caregivers’ skills in practicing mindful eating, movement and parenting behaviors at home to foster a more positive, mindful and healthy home environment
  • School learning and home practice connection initiative to improve caregiver-preschooler relationships

The purpose of this five-year, two-phase trial is to evaluate the effects of the 16-week school- and home-based, multi-component program on improving both preschoolers’ and caregivers’ mental, emotional, behavioral and physical health and well-being. The long-term goal is to achieve optimal whole-child health in early childhood to foster a healthier generation in the United States.

“This novel, timely and theory-driven food-body-mind intervention addresses the national emergency of mental health crises in early childhood,” said Ling, an associate professor in the college, assistant director of the doctoral program and principal investigator on the grant. “By targeting racially and ethnically diverse preschoolers from low-income backgrounds in both urban and rural areas, this intervention is expected to help in reducing health disparities and promoting health equity. If effective, it has the potential to be scalable to daycare programs across urban and rural settings nationally with long-term sustainability benefits.”

Ling’s team will track several metrics, with a focus on problem behaviors, but also will track body mass index, or BMI; stress levels; social skills; and blood pressure, among others.

The program connects to the university’s sustainable health mission — to reduce health disparities, expand access to health resources in underserved communities and contribute to the sustainable health and well-being of communities.

“Sustainable health is a commitment to maintaining optimal functioning and well-being through health-focused education, research and best health care practices,” said Leigh Small, dean of the College of Nursing. “When we have well-being, we feel happy, healthy, socially connected and purposeful.”

By: Kristofer Karol

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