Meaghan Walker is a MSc Candidate at the University of Toronto and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. As part of her graduate research, she is working alongside Dr. Amy McPherson on the study titled: Family recommendations for improving health services to manage severe obesity in children with disabilities.
How did you become interested in childhood obesity research?
I have been interested in working with children with disabilities since I was ten years old. The capacity in which I did this has varied; however, the underlying focus of all my work has been on the inclusion and exclusion of children with disabilities from society. When I began working at Holland Bloorview with Dr. McPherson, I learned about the lack of resources available for children with disabilities and higher weights, despite the higher prevalence and resultant secondary conditions. This boils down to a difference in the way this population is treated and the consequences that result from a lack of appropriate resources, which aligns closely with my passion for promoting inclusion for youth with disabilities.
What are your specific research interests?
I am interested in the ways that weight management supports and services can meet the unique needs of children with disabilities. Through my work so far, I have learned that most existing programs are designed to meet the needs of typically developing children, and understandably, children with disabilities may present with different challenges. I hope that our research provides some useful tools and insights from children to help clinicians accommodate programs to include this population.
Can you describe your role on the research within Team ABC3?
Our larger study is exploring families’ experiences of managing higher weights in children with disabilities, specifically spina bifida and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We recognized how frequently the voices of children, specifically children with disabilities, are excluded from research. Therefore, we designed my component of the study to focus solely on the children’s perspectives. I am conducting face-to-face qualitative interviews with children with ASD and children with spina bifida to learn about their experiences managing weight and what supports or services they desire.
What do you hope to gain from participating with Team ABC3?
Participating on team ABC3 has been an exceptional experience. I started my MSc a month before the Childhood Obesity conference in Ottawa. This meant my initial exposure to childhood obesity research came from many scientists and trainees on Team ABC3! I have also enjoyed participating in our monthly team meetings, as having a team with such unique backgrounds and experiences has helped shape and guide this study. I look forward to my continued work with this incredible team.
To date, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your own research on childhood obesity? Your biggest success?
For me, the biggest challenge of my own research was creating the interview guide. I wanted to craft an interview guide that allowed me to discuss weight and weight-related concerns with participants while being sensitive to the fact that discussing weight may be a difficult topic for many children.
I think my biggest success of my research has been the framework I created to explore the risk factors for overweight and obesity in children with disabilities. I accommodated Davison and Birch’s (2001) framework that was modelled on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Framework. Davison and Birch’s framework categorized the factors in a typically developing child’s life that put them at risk for higher weight. The framework we created, however, includes the multitude of risk factors that interact and intersect for a child with a disability that lead to higher weight. This framework provides a novel way of exploring the notion of supports. Moving away from an “eat less, move more” mindset, this framework will hopefully allow clinicians to explore all the factors that should be considered when creating programs for children with disabilities.
What is one (or more!) thing your Team ABC3 colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
I speak sign language (ASL)!