Like all GSE faculty, Myles Faith was forced to pivot professionally and personally during the COVID-19 shutdown. He took it in stride, using the pandemic as a lens for studying treatment programs for children dealing with obesity, and as a unique opportunity to focus on his own family.
“Lockdown was a challenge, but there was something also wonderful about having that time together,” he said.
A professor of counseling, school and educational psychology, Faith has spent decades studying “nature vs. nurture” with respect to childhood obesity and its impact on families. His work includes investigations into how children’s eating behaviors and body weight may be influenced by their temperaments, access to technology at school and at home—even their mothers’ eating habits and health during pregnancy.
Faith’s goal is to develop better evidence-based interventions that help parents and caregivers find positive strategies for healthy eating.
In 2020, his research dovetailed with COVID. As springtime shutdowns began, Faith and several U.S. and international colleagues began an observational study of overweight children and adolescents involved in a long-term childhood obesity treatment program in Verona, Italy. According to Faith, it was one of the first to look at the impact lockdowns had on an existing obesity intervention.
The research confirmed that the children ate considerably more unhealthy foods and drinks, spent more time in front of screens and had less physical activity and sleep than they did a year earlier.
“This happened in large part because their routine was disrupted,” Faith said.
“What COVID puts under the microscope is the significance of family routines, and how they get thrown for a loop in a major way that has an impact on eating, sleep and diet.”
One silver lining: the rise of virtual technologies during COVID may help families treat obesity more effectively at home. Since graduate school, Faith has studied how technology-based interventions, such as telehealth-based counseling models, can influence healthier eating habits for kids and positive behaviors for the whole family.