Amy McPherson, PhD, CPsychol is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and Scientist at the Bloorview Research Institute. As a Team ABC3 Principal Investigator, Amy is leading 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?
My PhD was in childhood asthma self-management and I started to read some links between asthma and obesity. When I moved to Toronto from the UK in 2009, I was shocked to learn about the even higher rates of obesity in children with disabilities, as well as some of the complexities involved. Talking to clinicians at Holland Bloorview reinforced that this was something they frequently saw in clinical practice but didn’t know how to address. I started off with a couple of small studies and then it grew from there.
What are your specific research interests?
My program of research focuses upon health and wellness promotion in children with long-term conditions and disabilities. I’m particularly interested in using strengths-based interventions to promote healthy lifestyles, as well as how healthcare professionals can have positive conversations about health and weight-management with children and families. This research falls under a broader umbrella of supporting meaningful social inclusion for children and youth with disabilities.
Can you describe your role on the research within Team ABC3?
I’m the Principal Investigator for study 5.4, which explores the experiences and recommendations of children with disabilities and their families around supports and services for weight management. It’s a qualitative interview study engaging youth with autism spectrum disorder and spina bifida and their parents to help us understand their needs and priorities.
What do you hope to gain from participating with Team ABC3?
I’m excited to hear the voices of children with disabilities, who are often excluded from research. This study gives us a great opportunity to work alongside children and families to design supports and services that meet their real-world needs. Beyond the individual project, I’m learning so much by working with Team ABC3 colleagues across Canada and hearing many diverse perspectives.
To date, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your own research on childhood obesity? Your biggest success?
Although hearing directly from children with disabilities is so important, it also comes with some challenges. We have to be creative in supporting children to contribute their thoughts by using techniques such as art, photographs, printed pictures and written answers alongside more traditional research methods.
A success for me was securing a CIHR meeting grant in 2013 that enabled me to bring together researchers, front-line clinicians, families and decision-makers from across Canada, US and Europe for a two-day workshop to set priorities for research on obesity in children with disabilities. It highlighted what was truly important to people and also helped forge some strong collaborative relationships that continue today.
What is one (or more!) thing your Team ABC3 colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
I have my green belt in kick-boxing.