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Housed in the Center for Health Inclusion, Research and Practice (CHIRP) at Merrimack College

Where innovative translational research improves health outcomes for youth with neurodevelopmental and mental health diagnoses.

Our Research

Our research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Healthy Weight Research Network, the Deborah Noonan Foundation, and the New Balance Foundation. We are proud research partners with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at UMass  Chan Medical School, the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Lab at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and are a collaborating entity of the Healthy Weight Research Network.

Check out our podcast, Healthy Enough, which harnesses research and realism to help parents create healthier exercise, nutrition and sleep habits in their children who may be living with mental health challenges.

Example Publications

ADHD and Obesity Risk in Youth

Bowling, A. B., Tiemeier, H. W., Jaddoe, V. W. V., Barker, E. D., & Jansen, P. W. (2018). ADHD symptoms and body composition changes in childhood: A longitudinal study evaluating directionality of associations. Pediatric obesity13(9), 567-575.

Exercise and Behavioral Function

Bowling, A., Slavet, J., Miller, D. P., Haneuse, S., Beardslee, W., & Davison, K. (2017). Cybercycling effects on classroom behavior in children with behavioral health disorders: an RCT. Pediatrics139(2), e20161985.

Implementation Science

Bowling, A.B., Frazier, J.A., Staiano, A.E., Broder-Fingert, S. and Curtin, C. (2022) Presenting a New Framework to Improve Engagement in Physical Activity Programs for Children and Adolescents With Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Disabilities. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 608.

Principal Investigator: Dr. April Bowling

Our team is committed to finding practical approaches to improve chronic disease disparities among youth with neurodevelopmental and mental health diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression. Our research helps to establish the relative effectiveness of intervention components in real-world settings, so that parents and clinicians can best allocate scarce resources. As a result, community-based, school, and home programming can become more accessible, scalable and engaging. I am proud to have built a diverse research network that includes individuals with lived experience, clinicians, exercise scientists, registered dieticians, developmental psychologists, educators, and graduate students.

I completed my doctoral degree at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, focusing my dissertation on the effects of exercise and nutrition on mental and physical health among youth with neurodevelopmental and affective disorders. As an Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at Merrimack College, I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in public health, epidemiology and nutrition, and offer students opportunities to both become involved in research and volunteer to support youth and their families in neighboring communities.

Dr. Bowling’s CV

Clinical Psychologist: Dr. James Slavet

Over the past twenty years, my training and career has been focused on the real world application of evidence-based treatment to children with social and emotional challenges. During my pre-doctoral internship (University of Washington School of Medicine) and post-doctoral fellowship (Brown University School of Medicine), I had the honor of learning about clinical research by participating both as a researcher and clinician. At Judge Baker Children’s Center (2005-2015), I focused on the delivery of evidence based treatment in school and camp programs, training doctoral students, and directing programs. My current collaboration with THRIVE allows me to continue with my passions for evidence-based treatment, and participating in clinical research collaborations. Since 2015, I have helped lead a number of projects aimed at improving the physical health of children with social and emotional challenges.

Postdoctoral Fellow: Dr. Winston Kennedy

Dr. Kennedy joined THRIVE in 2022. He completed his undergraduate degree in psychology and is a doctor of physical therapy (DPT). He is currently finishing his research doctorate in adaptive kinesiology at Oregon State University, and is focusing his research on how the intersection of race, gender identity and disability influence physical activity perceptions and engagement.

(L-R) Research Manager Tara Daly, Postdoc Winston Kennedy and PI April Bowling exergaming in the Lab.

Get in Touch with THRIVE Lab

Contact Information

Merrimack College School of Health Sciences
Department of Public Health and Nutrition
315 Turnpike Street, O’Reilly Hall
North Andover, Massachusetts 01845
Email: bowlinga(@)merrimack(.)edu

“Parenting healthy habits in children with neurodevelopmental and mental health diagnoses is difficult, and often undermined by competing demands on parenting resources. To reduce chronic disease disparities and promote health in this population, future research must better adapt existing health promotion materials and programs to more practically support parents in multiple settings including home, schools and community organizations.”

Bowling, A., Blaine, R. E., Kaur, R., & Davison, K. K. (2019). Shaping healthy habits in children with neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders: parent perceptions of barriers, facilitators and promising strategies. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity16(1), 52.