Federally-Funded Lab To Study Fitness In Arkansas Children, Pregnant Women

Oct 10, 2017

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks with a teenager running on a treadmill before Tuesday's unveiling ceremony for the pediatric exercise science lab at the Arkansas Children's Research Institute.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center on Tuesday unveiled an exercise science lab designed to help researchers better understand how physical activity promotes better health. Officials say it’s only the second such facility in the nation.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined officials inside the lab, which is equipped with treadmills and other equipment, to mark the opening. Hundreds of children from a broad range of backgrounds will take part in the research, said the center’s Director Sean Adams.

"We’re going to be comparing directly kids who are quite fit and active and kids who are more sedentary and inactive, and we’re going to try to match every other factor, social factors, cultural factors and all the rest, so that we can better kind of tease apart what is it physiologically that sets these kids apart from one another," Adams said.

Arkansas is among the most obese states in the nation, according to recent rankings. The lab is designed to combat the problem in measurable ways and determine why some children are obese while others aren’t.

"If we figure that out, then we can figure out what ultimately motivates some kids to be more active than others; then we can use the science to actually drive evidence-based policy," Adams said. "The other thing that we acknowledge here in that study is that not every kid is going to be the same. So you can have one policy, but that may not always apply to every kid. We may need to understand interindividual variability, and that’s where we’re heading next."

Speaking during the unveiling ceremony, Governor Hutchinson said the potential for work to be accomplished in the lab holds great promise for the state and is aligned with his Healthy Active Arkansas plan.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking during the unveiling ceremony Tuesday at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

"If, through research and science, we can determine better paths for our children, we can determine what motivates and encourages them in terms of healthy lifestyles, in terms of eating, in terms of exercise, then we’re going to make a difference for the next generation, and it’ll make a difference for Arkansas," Hutchinson said.

A key way it would help the state, he said, is by cutting healthcare expenses.

"I’m a very practical person. I look after the state budget, and if through this research we can have some education, we can have some benefit that changes those lifestyles and reduces hypertension, that reduces the strokes, that reduces all the bad health outcomes from bad lifestyles, then we’re going to make a real difference for our state," Hutchinson said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center $7.3 million in annual appropriations, which officials say covers operations for the center, including creation of the new exercise physiology lab.