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Research / Discovery

Beyond one-size-fits-all prevention

August 8, 2014

Lauren Shomaker researches effectiveness of targeted, psychosocial obesity prevention programs for teens

Lauren Shomaker, faculty member in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, studies results of a test subject's Bod Pod analysis.According to the Centers for Disease Control, "childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years," which puts these young people at higher risk for future cardiovascular disease and diabetes. One-size-fits-all weight loss and obesity prevention programs may not be the most effective strategies for adolescents who have a lot of stress or symptoms of depression.

Lauren Shomaker, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies is researching obesity prevention from a targeted perspective focused on teens who are feeling stressed or depressed.

"We want to see how adolescents at risk for obesity and obesity-related illnesses like diabetes respond to mindfulness programs that focus on reducing stress," explains Shomaker. 

With multiple research projects in the works, Shomaker says her projects have the common thread of an emphasis on teens and the role of depression and stress in their risk of obesity.

First project at CSU

Funded with a National Institute of Child Health and Development grant, Shomaker's first project at CSU evaluates a mindfulness or cognitive-behavioral group program for teen girls at risk for diabetes. The six-week programs offer exercises that have been shown to reduce stress and depression with the goal of preventing future diabetes.

Shomaker's second research project, Eating and Attitudes in Teens, or "Project EAT," includes both boys and girls aged 12-17 at risk for obesity. Teens will be followed over a three-year period to observe what factors contribute to differences in how teens develop. Teens in Project EAT will be assessed using the state-of-the-art Bod Pod machine, which analyzes body composition including how much fat is being stored.

Through grant funding from the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station and the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Shomaker and her team will also use laboratory eating tests and interviews to determine participants' eating behaviors, moods and stress levels.

Obesity and depression

In addition, 50 participants deemed at-risk for becoming obese and who have symptoms of depression will be invited to participate in one of two educational programs: mindfulness to reduce stress or a health knowledge class. Shomaker will compare the two groups to see which prevention technique appears to be most effective. 

"Often teens feel overwhelmed when they are asked to make large eating and lifestyle changes," shares Shomaker. "When learning how to manage psychosocial issues, it feels like a more manageable change, one that can ultimately affect those larger lifestyle changes."

The EAT project will also look at functional MRIs of participants before and after the mindfulness course, in collaboration with the Brain Imaging Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Shomaker will use the results to understand how mindfulness training can affect the brain in self-regulation of food intake.

The results from all of these research projects will provide a detailed look into how teaching techniques for coping with depression and stress in adolescents could help prevent obesity or diabetes as they age. 

"By better understanding how psychological stressors affect weight gain, we can develop more effective prevention programs for this group," Shomaker says. 

If you are interested in participating in research or would like to learn more about body composition assessments with the Bod Pod, please contact the Shomaker Lab at (970) 491-1120 or email

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of the College of Health and Human Sciences  at Colorado State University.

Contact: Lauren Shomaker
Phone: 970.491.1120