Month: July 2010

Parents, Researchers Focus on Health of Latino Girls

A graduate student working with two CHIP principal investigators was featured in the New Britain Herald. Viana Turcios is conducting focus groups about the health of adolescent Latina girls as part of CHIP PI Dr. Seth Kalichman’s NIH AIDS training grant, intended to train graduate students in social processes related to AIDS, and CHIP PI Dr. Stephanie Milan’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaborative grant.

NEW BRITAIN — A focus group of Hispanic parents met with University of Connecticut researchers Thursday, as they gathered information regarding parents’ concerns on adolescent health.

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CHIP Affiliate Dr. Frederick L. Altice is One of Vienna Declaration Authors


Dr. Frederick L. Altice, a professor of medicine and director of clinical and community research at Yale University’s School of Medicine, is one of 31 authors of the Vienna Declaration.

The Vienna Declaration is a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. The declaration is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) to be held in Vienna, Austria from July 18th to 23rd, 2010. The declaration has been initiated by several of the world’s leading HIV and drug policy scientific bodies including the International AIDS Society and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy.

Click here to read the Vienna Declaration and to consider signing it.

A Review of the New Atkins for a New You Diet

CHIP PI Jeff Volek is quoted in a Health and Fitness Times review of his new book.

( Ever since it had been released in the seventies, the Atkins diet plan has always been marked by controversy. Critics point out there’s very little proof that any low-carb diet plan can be effective, and also that a diet plan so excessive in fat is actually unhealthy. Nevertheless, the diet plan has made it through a number of revisions, which includes the most recent, The New Atkins for a New You.

This brand new Atkins diet plan is a more versatile strategy which involves a lot more vegetables, as well as restricted quantities of healthy carbohydrates in its last phases. Yet it’s still essentially a low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet. This particular edition consists of more than fifty research reports which shed a favorable light upon the basic safety of low-carb eating plans (a number of these kinds of studies had been financed by the Atkins Foundation).

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CHIP Research: Robots May Help Children with Autism

RobotA robot delivers a karate chop or makes drumming motions and a child imitates the robot and delights in a novel playmate. But, if a child with autism imitates the robot, much more may occur.

Two CHIP researchers are studying whether a small robot with a big personality holds the potential to help children with autism improve both their motor and social-communication skills.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests interventions using robot-child interactions may enhance motor and social-communication skills of children with low- and high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), but there are very few clinical trials currently testing robot-child interactions as therapy for ASD,” CHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Anjana Bhat said.

Bhat, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the Neag School of Education, recently received a two-year, $404,639 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant to design a series of robot-child interactions that would help improve the gross motor skills and the imitative and turn-taking abilities of children with ASD. The second two-year phase of the project will include a clinical trial of the intervention with 20 children with ASD and 20 typically developing children between the ages of 4 and 8.

During her post-doctoral work in the field of autism, Bhat learned about the motor impairments of children with ASD, such as poor motor coordination, balance, and difficulty imitating complex movements. She became particularly interested in this area because research suggests impairments in these areas contribute to the social-communication impairments of children with ASD, she said.

Prior to applying for the NIMH grant, Bhat and her co-investigator, Timothy Gifford, director of both CHIP’s Advanced Interactive Technology Center (AITC) and the Ecological Robotics Lab at the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action (CESPA) in UConn’s psychology department, conducted a pilot study using a 7-inch robot they bought off the shelf and programmed themselves.

For the NIMH grant, Bhat and Gifford have purchased a two-foot-tall robot named Nao using internal equipment grant funds from Aldebaran Robotics in France.

Nao introduces himself, extends his hand for a shake, announces that children like to play with him and takes a bow. Nao even performs elaborate Tai Chi routines with accompanying music, but, most importantly to the researchers, the robot can be programmed to incrementally increase the complexity of its routines – including single movement and continuous movement sequences – over time as the children progress through therapy.

Bhat and Gifford have begun using Nao in sessions with children in Bhat’s Infant and Child Development Laboratory on campus. As part of the first phase of the study, the researchers will have 5 children with ASD and 16 typically developing children interact individually with Nao during eight separate sessions. Each session will include four or five robot actions to imitate. 

“So far, our data suggest that robot-child interactions are a highly motivating context for children, those with and without autism. Children not only connect with the robot but also with the tester who controls the robot as they both share the novel experience together,” Bhat said.

“Children with ASD typically feel more comfortable with robots than with other people initially, because robot interactions are simpler and more predictable and the children are in control of the social interaction,” Bhat explained. “Robots also are fully-embodied beings that encourage children to engage in whole body interactions. Children with ASD typically enjoy playing with them and respond with imitative behavior often delayed during interactions with other people.”

Bhat said robots could initially serve as intermediaries between therapists and children with ASD, until a connection is made, and may help extend the reach of clinicians.

“Often children with ASD have intense therapy needs – often 30 to 40 hours per week – and a robot could perform some of the tasks typically performed by an untrained individual and could support the clinician by delivering more standardized interventions,” she said.

Eventually, Gifford explained, robotics systems will have the potential to collect video and kinematic data of a child’s fine and gross motor performance and may further reduce the human resources required to deliver intensive interventions and perform frequent assessments.

“The ultimate goal will be to extend the capabilities of therapists and bring this technology to the target population in a useful, affordable way,” he said. “Someday, perhaps robots could be used in a variety of settings, such as schools and homes, as well as clinicians’ offices.”

CHIP PI Kerry Marsh, an associate professor of psychology, and CHIP Affiliate and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology Deborah Fein are collaborators on this project.

CHIP PI Jeff Volek Authors New Atkins Book

VolekCHIP Principal Investigator Jeff Volek is disseminating nearly a decade’s worth of research on the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets through a well-received new book.

Volek, an associate professor of kinesiology in the Neag School of Education, co-authored The New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great with two other researchers who, like himself, professionally study and personally follow the Atkins diet.

The book has appeared on the top of the London Times non-fiction best seller list and has been consistently in the top 15 of the New York Times Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous best seller list since it was released at the beginning of March. It also has received hundreds of favorable reviews on

A number of features set the new book, published this spring, apart from previous Atkins books, including meal plans, recipes, tips for eating out and success stories. To Volek, however, the most important difference between his new Atkins book and previous Atkins books is the focus on sharing the emerging science behind the diet in such a way that readers can easily understand it and consistently apply it to their daily lives.

“Significant scientific discoveries have been made in the last eight years that could be described as paradigm shifting,” Volek explained. “We went to great lengths to simplify complex concepts and provide easy incremental action steps for readers. We wanted them to understand not only what to do, but why. The book is more flexible… Perhaps the most important aspect of the new book is that we address the critical issue of sustainability from both a nutritional and a behavioral perspective.”

The New Atkins for a New You compiles research from more than 50 scientific studies, including 20 articles Volek has authored since he began studying the safety and effectiveness of the Atkins diet and other low-carbohydrate diets in 2001.

Volek’s research has examined how low-carbohydrate diets affect weight loss, body composition and risk factors for metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. His team has measured dozens of different cardio-metabolic risk factors, including sophisticated analysis of different lipids, hormones, and inflammatory and oxidative stress markers, and consistently has found improvements. Specifically, his team has seen decreases in triglycerides, increases in HDL cholesterol, increased size of LDL particles, decreased glucose and insulin levels and decreased inflammation.

Among his more recent work in this field, Volek has addressed the issue of saturated fat on the Atkins diet.

“Despite consuming three times more saturated fat compared to a low-fat diet, saturated fat levels in the blood went down more than two-fold greater than with a low fat diet,” he said. “How? On Atkins, saturated fat becomes an important energy source so you burn both body fat and fat in the diet for fuel. Also, the body makes less saturated fat.

“What we have learned is that carbohydrates control the fate of saturated fat,” he said. “As long as carbs are low enough, the body processes saturated fat very efficiently. In the presence of an abundance of carbohydrates, saturated fat can be problematic.

“The key is finding the level of carbohydrate you can tolerate and then fat is your friend.”

One way Volek and his co-authors simplified the science behind the diet was with two new concepts: the Metabolic Bully and the Atkins Edge.

“Eating too many carbs acts like a bully cutting in line in front of fat to be burned,” Volek said.

“After a week or two on the Atkins diet, people’s bodies become extraordinary fat burners. That’s the Atkins Edge. But just one meal with a lot of carbs stops this process, and it can take up to another week to get the Edge back,” he said. “For most people, if they stay with the level of carb restriction in the Atkins induction phase, the carbohydrate metabolic bully is banished and major weight loss and overall health improvements are within their grasp.”

Volek’s co-authors are Dr. Eric C. Westman, an associate professor of medicine at Duke University Health System and director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, and Dr. Stephen D. Phinney, professor emeritus of medicine from the University of California at Davis.