NIH Awards Kent State Researcher Funding for Mindfulness-Based Weight Intervention Study

A federal grant will help a Kent State researcher bring a new approach to the problem of obesity in teens — mindfulness.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 21 percent of children aged 12-19 are obese, and those from lower socio-economic groups are more likely to suffer from obesity.


Dr. Amy Sato, Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, recently received a two-year, $436,000 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, for her project, “Reducing Emotional Eating in Obese Low-Income Adolescents with Mindfulness-Based Behavioral Weight Management.”


“If you look at the literature on weight loss in teenagers, and specifically teens from a low-income background, outcomes are relatively poor,” Dr. Sato said. “The question is if there is a variable that hasn’t been specifically targeted. Our premise is that stress is the variable.” 


Dr. Sato said that teens and adolescents who are overweight and from lower-income families face myriad challenges to maintaining healthy diets. While they may face stress like neighborhood violence and food insecurity, they also have access to less healthy foods. She added that stress triggers the release of cortisol, which drives cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods.


“So it’s a perfect storm, setting them up to be less healthy,” she said. “Our goal is that a mindfulness intervention will help with the stress piece.”

Dr. Sato’s lab has conducted previous experiments with the same population. Results showed that teens who report being less mindful typically have a higher body-mass index (BMI) for their age and sex, and they report higher levels of stress and emotional eating.


Mindfulness is defined as purposefully focusing one's awareness and attention on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgment.


The intervention model blends elements of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction with a 16-week teen weight management intervention developed by Dr. Sato’s colleague, Dr. Elissa Jelalian, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, a co-investigator on the grant.


The first stage of the project is forming a youth advisory board.

“We want this model to feel relevant to teens, and get their feedback on how to develop it for them,” Dr. Sato said. They will then pilot the model with small groups, revise again, then proceed with a randomized control trial.


Additional co-investigators on the project are Professors of Psychological Sciences at KSU, Dr. David Fresco and Dr. Manfred van Dulmen, and Dr. Shirley Moore, Professor of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.


Emily Vincent:

Dan Pompili: 330-672-0731,


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