Chasing a Remedy for Childhood Obesity

Nurse & Marathon Runner Amy Hutchens Researching Parenting Practices and How They Influence Children's Health Behaviors

Article by Staci Elder Hensley

Photography by Kaylin Hill

Originally published in OKC City Lifestyle

It’s well established that obesity is at epidemic levels in the United States—Oklahoma, in particular. Among those on the front lines battling this crisis is Amy Hutchens*, R.N., Ph.D., who is adding to the knowledge base that will encourage and provide additional tools for parents to keep their children active.

Amy currently is an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing, which is where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

While still a student, she developed a clinical interest in childhood obesity, children’s health behaviors and physical activity, and she continues to develop and conduct research on the topic. Along the way, she completed her Ph.D. in nursing and health care innovation from Arizona State University, where she was named as its Outstanding Graduate.

“I focus on physical activity because I love to exercise, and I’ve even run the New York City marathon and 12 half-marathons here in Oklahoma,” Amy said.

“I became interested in obesity because of the obesity epidemic."

She noted that childhood obesity impacts nearly 20% of children and adolescents in the United States and is a serious health problem.

“My research focuses on parenting practices and how they influence children’s health behaviors. The majority of parents who exercise will have children who exercise. I am working on the development of interventions aimed at supporting and improving parents’ health behaviors, which will hopefully impact their children’s health behaviors and future generations.”

Amy noted that family provides the social context where our behavior patterns develop, and that a parent’s beliefs and actions about physical activity and nutrition directly predict their child’s patterns and risk for obesity. Low socioeconomic-status children are disproportionally impacted by overweight and obesity, she added, saying that “effective family-based prevention programs, like those I am trying to develop, must combine information on the link between parenting, children’s physical activity and eating behaviors.”

Originally from Purcell, Amy said that she loves to learn and became interested in teaching while in college herself. After teaching licensed practical nurses (LPNs) at a technical college for several years, in 2010 she joined the OU College of Nursing faculty, where she’s been ever since. She teaches nursing pharmacology classes, as well as two back-to-back courses on the human experience of acute and chronic illness. 

“I love the students, my colleagues and the opportunity to learn more and create new science,” she said. “Working with college students is fun. They are smart, entertaining, high energy, and I love that they are learning how to save a life. That is a critical skill. This generation is open minded and innovative. They are always thinking of new and creative ways to do things, and they inspire me to think differently.”

Amy’s influence on her students is strong and positive, and she consistently receives rave reviews from them. In 2019 she was chosen by her colleagues to receive the college’s Excellence in Academic Teaching Award. Her knowledge of nursing education also was recognized at the highest level when the National Council of State Boards of Nursing asked her to contribute questions for their official national council licensure exam for registered nurses.

She also has earned numerous academic and professional honors to date, including being named a national March of Dimes Oklahoma Nurse of the Year finalist in 2015. Her research has been published and presented in multiple outlets, including The Journal of School Nursing and at annual meetings for the Society of Behavioral Medicine and the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science.

In addition to her professorial duties with OU, Amy serves on the Oklahoma Nurses Association board and is in the midst of her third term as its membership development director. (ONA is the professional association for all Oklahoma registered nurses.) In her role she travels around the state and works with ONA members to address professional issues like nurse-force ratios, patient safety, workplace safety and scope of practice.

“Our vision is to improve the health of Oklahomans through advancing professional nursing practice,” Amy said.

“There is still a shortage of nurses at the bedside, and this impacts safety and health outcomes for everyone. I can impact this in a positive way by continuing to train nurses and advocating for safe conditions at the bedside. Achieving this goal through my role as an ONA board member is very rewarding, because I feel like I can make a difference for the profession of nursing by advocating for a culture of safety and eliminating barriers to practice.”

With all that she has on her plate, Amy said her family provides “the best support system a person could ask for!” The family includes her children, Ian and Raegan Hutchens, parents Tommie and Judy McPherson (who are longtime central Oklahoma farmers), her significant other, Brandon Philbin, and the family’s Maine Coon cat, Sirius Black.

“I believe the key to happiness is meaningful relationships,” Amy said. “I am very grateful to have so much support and love.”

* Editor’s Note- As per OU requirements, Amy Hutchins notes that her opinions and conclusions are her own; they do not necessarily represent the university.

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