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Dr. Bakula Receives NIH K23 Award for Mental Health Treatment for Parents of Children with Pediatric Feeding Disorder


Dr. Bakula Receives NIH K23 Award for Mental Health Treatment for Parents of Children with Pediatric Feeding Disorder

Headshot of Dana Bakula, PhD
Dana Bakula, PhD
Child Psychologist; Program and Research Director; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine
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Dana Bakula, PhD, Child Psychologist, Gastroenterology, received a four-year, $655,964 K23 Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (Number 1K23MH133874-01A1) from the National Institutes of Mental Health for her project, “Brief Mental Health Treatment for Parents of Children with Pediatric Feeding Disorder.”

Pediatric feeding disorder (PFD) affects one in 37 young children. Children with PFD have so much difficulty with eating that it affects their growth and nutrition. Without effective treatment, it can lead to severe malnutrition.

Caring for a child with PFD is very stressful, and 40% of parents of children with PFD report mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and parenting stress. Parent mental health difficulties are known to impact PFD and its treatment because these concerns change how parents interact with their children at mealtimes and make it is difficult for them to engage in feeding treatment recommendations.

Despite the known impact of parent mental health on PFD, addressing parent mental health in PFD care is not part of standard of care and no mental health treatments for these parents have been tested. Dr. Bakula’s study is the first to address this problem.

For this project, Dr. Bakula will assess the effectiveness of a two-session, mental health intervention for parents of children with PFD. The intervention uses focused acceptance and commitment therapy, which is a type of therapy that can be helpful in just two sessions. Researchers believe this type of therapy improves psychological flexibility, which is a person’s ability to stay in the moment, acknowledge emotions, and make decisions based on their values. In this case, psychological flexibility may help parents better manage stress related to feeding and mealtime.

“We know that parents are struggling, but in pediatric healthcare the parent is not our patient, so many providers think it is not our job to support them. However, we cannot achieve wellbeing for all children without supporting and treating parents as part of our standard of care,” said Dr. Bakula. “My hope for this project is that it is a step towards more universal support for parents and caregivers in pediatric healthcare.”

Her team will measure whether the treatment results in positive effects on parent mental health, psychological flexibility, and mealtime behavior. Additionally, they will evaluate preliminary implementation outcomes. 

The study’s mental health treatment is designed to be easily scalable so that it can be shared with children’s hospitals around the country and implementation at their institutions. Because of this, it has the potential of reaching parents of children with PFD throughout the United States. This project builds on her earlier study that included a pilot of the mental health intervention.

Dr. Bakula is mentored by Ann Davis, PhD, MPH, Director, Center for Children’s Healthy Lifestyles and Nutrition; Delwyn Catley, PhD, San Diego State University; and Kandace Fleming, PhD, University of Kansas.

The contents are those of the investigator and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by NIH, or the U.S. Government