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April 2018 Newsletter

"Physical Activity Research in Children and Youth with Disabilities and Preparation for NAFAPA 2018 at Oregon State University" (Issue 3; June, 2018)

Research Corner: Childhood Obesity

President's Note:
Heidi Stanish, PhD
Dept. of Exercise & Health Sciences
University of Massachusetts Boston

Greetings on behalf of the NAFAPA Officers.  I hope that you had a successful academic year and have plans to enjoy some adventures this summer.  It is an exciting time for NAFAPA as we look ahead to our research symposium in October at Oregon State University. 

A few updates and highlights as we move toward the meeting this fall.  After much consideration, the NAFAPA Officers recently voted to end the paid membership fee.  It has become clear that the fees are logistically difficult to administer and that a paid membership has not provided the benefits that we had intended when initiated in 2014.  The Officers are content with the decision to refund fees and we look forward to returning to the “old” system of membership - if you attend the symposium then you are a NAFAPA member.  Under the leadership of Past-President Dr. Susan Kasser, we are continuing to review and revise the NAFAPA by-laws.  A draft will be distributed to you for a vote at the 2018 business meeting.  While we our attention is focused on the upcoming symposium in Corvallis, I am also excited to report that we have proposals to host the 2020 research symposium.  Proposals will be reviewed and an announcement of the site will be made via email and posted on the NAFAPA website.  Later this summer a call for nominations for NAFAPA officers will be distributed.  I encourage you to consider nominating yourself or a colleague to serve the organization for the 2018-2020 term. 

This edition of the NAFAPA newsletter highlights the important work of a researcher and a graduate student.  We are very proud to present the work of Dr. Kelly Arbour-Nicitopoulos (Assistant Professor, University of Toronto) and Nicole Kirk (Doctoral Candidate, Old Dominion University) who are undertaking impactful research in the field of Adapted Physical Activity.  This edition also includes a Research Corner, where we identify a relevant research topic and invite a few cross-disciplinary experts to summarize their work in the area.  The topic for this Research Corner is Obesity and Disability, and we are fortunate to feature Dr. Linda Bandini (University of Massachusetts Medical School – E.K. Shriver Center) and Dr. Lauren Ptomey (University of Kansas).    

I would like to thank Dr. JK Yun and his organizing team at Oregon State University for their work in planning the 2018 research symposium with the theme: Individuals, Communities and Beyond: Promoting Full Participation and Well-Being for All.  I look forward to seeing you all in Corvallis for what will certainly be an engaging and thought-provoking meeting.  Enjoy your summer!



Heidi Stanish

Research Highlight:
Research Highlight
Kelly Arbour-Nicitopoulos Leads Exemplary Community-based Physical Activity Programs for Children and Youth With Disabilities

Dr. Arbour-Nicitopoulos is an Assistant Professor in Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto, an Adjunct Scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, and the Director of Research for the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability. Her research focuses on the interplay of physical activity and mental health across the lifespan in clinical and community-based populations living with chronic health conditions. The research undertaken in Dr. Arbour-Nicitopoulos’ ADAPT lab focuses on the development and testing of theory-based physical activity interventions that: (1) reach persons with chronic health conditions, (2) demonstrate effectiveness for promoting mental health and physical activity behaviour, and (3) can be adopted and implemented into practice for promoting long-term behaviour change. An integral aspect of Arbour-Nicitopoulos’ research is knowledge translation. She was the Executive Director of a nation-wide telephone-based PA counseling service (Get In Motion) from 2008 to 2016 that supported over 160 Canadian adults with physical disabilities to lead more physically active lifestyles. More recently, Dr. Arbour-Nicitopoulos is the co-founder of an inclusive community-based physical literacy program (Igniting Fitness Possibilities) that aims to foster a passion for physical activity among children and youth across grades 1-12.

Two current research projects that Dr. Arbour-Nicitopoulos provides leadership to are the National Physical Activity Measurement (NPAM) Project for Children and Youth with Disabilities and the Igniting Fitness Possibilities (IFP) Program Pilot Study. The purpose of the NPAM research project is to evaluate 24-hour movement behaviours (i.e., physical activity, sedentary activity, and sleep) and mental health outcomes among children and youth with disabilities across Canada. Over the course of 5 years, data from 1,000 children and youth (aged 4-17 years) will be collected relating to sport and physical activity participation, screen-time activity, activities of daily living, sleep, depression and anxiety, and perceptions of parental social support for sport and physical activity. Together, these data will: (a) provide the first Canadian population-level data for school-aged children and youth with all types of disabilities regarding rates of physical activity, screen-time behaviours, and achievement of the 24-Hour Movement Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth; (b) establish demographic and mental health profiles of those who meet and do not meet the 24-Hour Movement Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth; (c) describe different types of durations for physical activities being undertaken by children and youth with disabilities; and (d) provide baseline assessment for evaluating programs and policies aimed at supporting the well-being of Canadian children and youth with disabilities. This research is supported through JumpStart and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as part of a larger initiative called the Canadian Disability Participation Project

The second project, IFP, is a community-based initiative with an added research arm. The goal of IFP is to help children and youth with diverse abilities gain a positive attitude towards physical activity and its benefits, develop the confidence to try new community-based physical activities, form new friendships, and be motivated to continue future physical activity and set goals to stay active. The research arm of the IFP project consists of pilot-testing the IFP program across a variety of neighbourhoods to determine its feasibility, acceptability, and impact on physical literacy outcomes. The IFP project is funded through National Bank, Milos Ranoic Foundation, Connaught New Researcher Award (University of Toronto), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund, and Chillin' For Kids.

Student Highlight
Student Highlights:
Nicole Kirk
Ph.D Candidate at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia

Nicole Kirk is a second year doctoral student in Health and Sport Pedagogy at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Prior to entering her current program, she completed her master’s degree in adapted physical education at the University of Virginia. While there, she worked as an itinerant adapted physical education specialist in Albemarle and Nelson county schools. Sensing that the K-12 school setting was not the right fit, she decided to pursue research through doctoral study. Her primary interest lies in adapted physical activity, including the relationship between motivational and identity factors and sport and physical activity participation for individuals with visual impairment.

To date, she has co-authored seven published or in press articles and has presented at several national conferences. Last summer she won the Graduate Student Research Poster Competition at The National Consortium for Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID) for a study she co-authored with her advisor, Dr. Justin Haegele, and Dr. Xihe Zhu that investigated the relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and physical activity engagement among adults with visual impairments. She has also been accepted to present a retrospective qualitative paper at this year’s SHAPE America Convention that she co-authored with Haegele that examines the intersection of maleness and visual impairment and how those identities shaped the K-12 physical education experiences of study participants. Her dissertation research will continue along this theme, as she intends to investigate mediation effects of exerciser identity on the relationship between perceived value of physical activity and physical activity engagement levels among adults with visual impairments.


In addition to research, Nicole is currently serving as a student representative to The International Federation for Adapted Physical Activity (IFAPA). She is also the program coordinator and judo specialist for Mighty Monarchs, a sport program for youth with visual impairments conducted at Old Dominion University, and has been a judo specialist at Maryland School for the Blind’s Camp Abilities since 2015.

Research Corner
Research Corner:
Childhood Obesity
Linda Bandini, PhD
College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Boston University

Dr. Linda Bandini is an established researcher in the field of obesity.  She has conducted research on body composition and energy needs of children with cerebral palsy, severe central nervous system impairments, Prader-Willi syndrome and spina bifida. Dr. Bandini is currently leading a qualitative study to determine the impact of food selectivity on the lives of transition-age youth with autism spectrum disorder. This is a mixed method study which includes questionnaires about eating behavior and mealtimes, and an interview with participants about experiences around mealtimes. Dr. Bandini recently completed NIH-funded studies that examined diet, physical activity and obesity in children with ASD, and the correlates of physical activity in youth with intellectual disabilities and ASD compared to typically developing youth. She has also been a co-investigator on a parent-supported weight loss randomized clinical trial that compared two interventions nutrition education to nutrition education and behavioral modification for adolescents with Down syndrome and is currently a co-investigator on a family-based weight loss intervention for youth with intellectual disability.

Dr. Bandini is the Principal Investigator and Co-Director on the Healthy Weight Research Network for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities (HWRN-ASD/DD). The HWRN-ASD/DD was established in July 2013 with funding from the Maternal Child Health Bureau’s (MCHB) Division of Research and is coordinated by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at UMass Medical School in collaboration with Tufts University School of Medicine. The mission of the HWRN is to advance the understanding of obesity risk factors in children with ASD and other developmental disabilities, to promote the development of evidence-based solutions to achieve healthy weight in this population, and to disseminate research findings to broad and diverse audiences ( In addition, Dr. Bandini is the Director of Nutrition for the Shriver Center’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program where she oversees the development of health promotion materials for adolescents and young adults with intellectual disabilities and supervises nutrition graduate students in experiential learning with individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

Lauren Ptomey, PhD
College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Kansas Medical Center

Rates of obesity and obesity related chronic health conditions are higher in individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) than in the general population. In our laboratory, at the University of Kansas Medical Center, the long-term research goal is dedicated to develop effective weight management and physical activity interventions for adolescents and adults with intellectual and development disabilities. Currently there is limited data on effective weight management interventions in any age group with IDD. There are even fewer studies for adolescents with IDD. However, recent and on-going work from our laboratory has found that adults and adolescents following long-term behavioral interventions that utilize evidence based diets, self-monitoring, and frequent individual counseling sessions can achieve clinically significant weight.   


Even though these interventions have produced meaningful weight loss, they have not demonstrated any significant increases in physical activity. Individuals with IDD face several barriers which increase the complexity of developing interventions to increase PA, such as lack of social support, lack of both skills and an understanding of the potential benefits of increased PA, lack of trained professionals for assistance, and the lack of affordable/accessible transportation to facilities to participate in PA.

To overcome these barriers our group is conducting research in which exercises sessions led by adapted physical activity specialists are delivered via video conferencing to groups of individuals with IDD. This approach requires no travel commitment for care providers, since the need for transportation to a YMCA, community center, etc. is eliminated, and offers the potential for peer support and socialization, which may be important for initiation and maintenance of physical activity. Pilot research has shown that this approach is feasible in both adults and adolescents with IDD, and we are now working to determine if these remote exercise sessions can be implemented long-term and can lead to sustainable increases in physical activity. In the future, I think it will vital to make sure that all weight loss interventions in this population include a physical activity component that is geared towards overcoming the specific barriers that individuals with IDD face. Together, effective weight loss and physical activity programs have the potential to make significant improvements in the health of individuals with IDD.  

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