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Doctor to study overweight indicators in newborns

Dr. John Winters (Buy photo)

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL -- Normally, major health-related research projects are conducted at a university or large medical centers, but Dr. Jon Winter is proof that big ideas can come out of small communities.

Winter, a physician at Front Royal Family Practice and assistant clinical professor through the location's residency program, recently received a research grant from the renowned American Academy of Family Practice.

Through the $8,000 grant, Winter will lead a project exploring early obesity and overweight indicators in newborns.

As a faculty member of the Valley Health-sponsored Shenandoah Family Practice Residency, Winter said he is always working to grow the organization's research program.

"A big part of what I do is teaching research methods and exposing students to clinical research," he said. "And we've got a few research projects going on, but this is really exciting because it's a topic we hear about all the time."

Winter said being able to identify infants right at the time of birth who are at a much greater risk of being overweight in the future has value. Some babies are lean and longer, while others are "pudgy" and shorter. While two babies might weigh the same, their body mass index or fat percentage might be completely different.

If doctors can have standardized ways of identifying babies at risk of becoming obese or overweight, then it could be a huge step toward effective interventions, he said.

"It is always better to attack a problem before it happens," he said. "Hopefully, this research can help physicians be more proactive in their intervention techniques, and get more tools to the table as early as possible."

Winter published a small pilot study in the journal Clinical Pediatrics a couple years ago that suggested that "fatness" at birth was in fact associated with overweight later in childhood.

The grant from the American Academy of Family Practice funds a larger project that looks at fatness at birth and infancy in a much bigger sample. It will also allow researchers to follow the sample set of children for an extended period of time into childhood, and let them get a closer look at family history and the actions of their mothers during pregnancy.

"There are a lot of factors that go into this, and we want to cover as many as possible," Winter said. "This grant will take what we've already found and give it more power and validity."

Winter and his team will begin looking at data from a sample set in a rural community North Carolina, similar to that in the valley, he said.

In November, Winter will present initial findings during a national conference, and he said he hopes to move on to publishing some time next year.

Historically, doctors are quickly able to tell the difference between a "big" or "small" baby -- a baby born prematurely versus one who is not. It was only in recent years that body mass index and fat percentages came into the picture, Winter said.

"It's time for us figure out how to interpret that fatness, and link baby data to family data," he said.

The American Academy of Family Practice gives out two or three awards a year, Winter said, and they typically go to larger facilities.

Winter is excited that such a project with great potential is coming out of Front Royal.

"Folks expect to see new information and findings come out of these university medical centers," he said. "But I think it's important to have ideas and research coming form practicing physicians in the middle of a real community ... we have something to add, too."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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