Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Child and Family Health in the Field: An Interview with Dr. Delamater

April Bowling, PhD, CFH SIG Member; Rebeccah L Sokol, MSPH, CFH SIG Outlook Coordinator;  Nataliya Zelikovsky, PhD, CFH SIG Chair; & Pam Behrman, PhD, CFH SIG Co-Chair

Alan Delamater, PhD
Alan Delamater, PhD

The Child and Family Health Special Interest Group (CFH SIG) interviewed SBM fellow and recipient of the CFH SIG Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Alan Delamater, to gain insight into how he approaches diabetes research from a child and family health perspective.

CFH SIG: What drew you to research the behavioral and psychosocial aspects of diabetes in children and families?

Delamater: As a graduate student I studied ADHD and learning disabilities. However, in my first faculty position a colleague asked if I would co-author a literature review on family and child factors associated with successful diabetes management. That review led me to see the research opportunities in pediatric behavioral medicine. I eventually wrote a small grant that received funding, and that grant led to an RCT, and that resulted in over 30 years of continuing research in what became my field of expertise.

CFH SIG: What current and future projects are you most excited about?

Delamater: I’m most excited about using mobile health technology to translate the face-to-face aspects of clinical care into digital content to manage blood sugar control. We’ve done a nice job testing interventions and we know what works, but the issue remaining is delivery. In a survey of 200 [diabetes care?]centers about barriers to patient care, an overwhelming response was the lack of resources.  We don’t have enough clinicians to meet the needs of patients.  Mobile applications help fill that gap, and research shows that families would welcome this approach.   

I am also interested in an application of a family-based mindfulness intervention for treatment of type 2 diabetes in adolescents. Personally, I have been practicing mindfulness meditation since 1975 and it has been transformative. I have applied it in my clinical work, but I think the time is ripe to move it into my research. The evidence base has evolved, and there is potential for mindfulness to be effective in the field of behavioral medicine management of chronic diseases like diabetes. Conducting multi-site studies has also been gratifying because they provide the power to answer interdisciplinary questions with a large sample, such as how life transitions affect management of diabetes in youth.  Another exciting intervention with babies and mothers is aimed at preventing obesity through care delivered at well-child visits in their first 2 years, since by kindergarten so many children are already obese.

That’s why I love academia.  You would think I’d be bored after studying these topics for more than 30 years, but I’m still so excited. 

CFH SIG:  Are grandparents playing an important role in children’s obesity treatment and diabetes management?  

Delamater: So much depends upon cultural factors. Clinically, we might address different management techniques with various caregivers depending on their responsibilities and relationships within the family. It’s a problem if we have a clinical disconnect between messaging for parents versus grandparents, but we clearly lack interventions targeting grandparents. Our review found that the field is ripe for research regarding how grandparents affect health outcomes in younger children. 

CFH SIG: What advice would you give current doctoral students interested in child and family health research?

Delamater: Start small. Apply for small grants, get a track record, and establish yourself as a principal investigator. Then you can advance to a private foundation and seek bigger funding. It’s unreasonable to think you are going to score an R01 right out of school.  Publish, and do more short term studies that can add a lot to the field of behavioral medicine. Also, look for good mentors and support systems. Finally, have a balanced life and have fun with it!

To hear more from Dr. Delamater and learn about the recent work of the CFH SIG, join us for our:

Annual CFH SIG Business Meeting

Date: Thursday, March 30

Time: 10:45-11:45 AM

Location: Conference Room Sapphire P, Hilton San Diego Bayfront