Challenge to biomed researchers: Solve the obesity problem

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Did you miss this excellent Viewpoint in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association about obesity? I almost did.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers paired up to write “The Next Generation of Obesity Research – No Time to Waste.”

Here’s the gist:

Can the United States again rise to the challenge and change its attitudes, policies, behaviors, and environments in some fundamental ways? The health of the next generation depends on the answer.

Obesity is complicated, so can we collaborate to solve it? Research is key, they say:

Americans spend more than $60 billion annually on weight-loss programs and products, yet scant evidence exists that these expenditures translate into lasting weight loss. Given the health consequences of obesity, the United States needs rigorous data on what approaches can help achieve and maintain healthy body weights over the long term.

Indeed, research has provided—and will continue to provide—the foundation of evidence needed to confront the obesity crisis in the most effective and efficient manner. Among the many questions to address are: Why are some individuals more susceptible to obesity? Can the knowledge of biology and behavior be used to develop and better target intervention strategies? What current strategies really work? For whom? Can these approaches be scaled up?

To address this need, research must proceed swiftly on 2 parallel fronts. The first is to devise practical and effective strategies for intervention, with special emphasis on preventive strategies that can be rapidly implemented in health care and community settings. The second is to evaluate community-based efforts that will soon be launched or are already under way, to gather data about their effectiveness, and to use that information to develop evidence-based interventions that can be applied on a wider scale.

This research needs priority funding because it will then inform policy, they concluded:

To advance this type of real-world research, the NIH recently launched an effort that will make it possible to more rapidly fund studies of imminent program or policy changes. This will enable researchers to collect time-sensitive data just prior to implementation of a new program or policy designed to reduce obesity. Having baseline information will facilitate evaluation of the effectiveness of these approaches and will serve as a basis for ongoing comparisons.

Additionally, research can provide much-needed information for policy makers venturing into uncharted terrain to address the obesity epidemic. Like their predecessors who fought long and hard for no-smoking laws and restrictions on cigarette sales and advertisements, leaders in medicine and government who propose policies to address obesity, such as mandatory nutrition education in public schools and new taxes or quantity limits on sugary soft drinks, may be accused of supporting a “nanny state” model, unless they have rigorous data to support their efforts.

OI in the News: UGA study provides insight on Freshman 15

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Check out another article posted last week by The Red & Black about obesity and efforts by the Obesity Initiative team. This time, it’s kinesiology professor Ellen Evans and postdoc Bhibha Das checking out the Freshman 15 phenomenon.

The “Freshman 15” is a slogan that looms over first-years’ heads as they begin college, but a new University research study could bring insight for freshmen.

This study, conducted by kinesiology professor Ellen Evans and postdoctoral kinesiology research associate Bhibha Das, will help freshmen understand where their individual bodies need improvement.

“We are looking at a variety of factors. We are looking at their blood, which includes their cholesterol levels, their insulin level and inflammation markers,” Das said. “We are looking at their height and weight when they come into college.”

Students will also fill out questionnaires, wear a pedometer to track steps taken per day and keep a food diary, Das said.

The study, which is meant to analyze but not diagnose, will show how numerous factors play a role in weight gain during the first year of college.

“Freshmen are trying to figure out and maneuver new social and physical environments,” Das said. “What we’re seeing is that the stress, the anxiety and the depression is playing a role in people’s activity habits and their nutrition habits.”

OI in the News: UGA professors study sleep apnea and obesity link

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Obesity in the News

The Obesity Initiative landed more coverage in the news this week in The Red & Black. Check out this article about OI team members Brad Phillips (pharmacy professor) and Richard Meagher (genetics professor) looking at sleep apnea:

Phillips said the idea for the experiment came from his and Meagher’s meeting at a conference on campus.

“We found we had a similar interest, and it focused around sleep apnea,” he said.

Meagher said they are going to do experiments to study various changes in the body, but they are just getting started.

“We are gong to set up experiments looking at obese and lean people with sleep apnea and try and tease out changes that lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease,” he said.

Phillips said sleep apnea is a disorder in which people stop breathing during the night and has been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Obesity is a factor commonly present in patients with sleep apnea.

“We knew that obesity, if it is present, actually makes sleep apnea worse,” Phillips said.

Odyssey seminars show student involvement in Obesity Initiative

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Several professors involved in the Obesity Initiative are teaching first-year Odyssey classes that include obesity discussions. Look out for a longer story later! Check out a few of these below:

 

Childhood and Adult Obesities
Instructor: Cliff Baile, Obesity Initiative director
Currently, more than one billion adults are overweight and at least 300 million are clinically obese. This seminar will cover the latest research on causes of obesity, such as neurobiological impacts on metabolism, effects of diet composition, the role of maternal gestational obesity on development of obesity in children, and social environmental influences upon eating and physical activity behavior. We will also discuss the physiological effects of excess adipose tissue, including diabetes, bone loss, cardiovascular disease, and the economic impacts of the obesity epidemic on an already stressed healthcare system. Finally, we will discuss effective treatment and prevention modalities for both children and adults at the individual and community levels. Course activities will include reading original research papers, in-class discussion of topics, and preparation of a report on a related topic.
 
Junk Food, Health Food and Choices
Instructor: Louise Wicker, professor of food science and technology
Are you interested in science and math and like applications of chemistry? Did you know that obesity is the number one health care issue in the U.S.? Does your diet consist mainly of pizza, hamburgers, fries and soft drinks? Are you frightened by stories of red slime in your hamburger, BPA in your water bottle, genetically modified foods or pesticides in your foods? Global sourcing of foods and food ingredients, mass production of foods, a comparison of locally grown and organic with conventional foods, the healthfulness of foods from center aisles of the grocery store or from fast food restaurants will be discussed. At the end of this course, students will know how to access credible information on foods, source, function and safety of food ingredients, and make wiser decisions about food choices. Format will include readings on foods and food ingredients and impact on health, videos, written assignments and class room discussion.
 
Nutrition and Health
Instructor: Silvia Giraudo, associate professor of foods and nutrition
Why is nutrition important in today’s society? This course will examine how nutrition affects health and life in general. The seminar format will highlight visiting experts as well as class presentation of articles (including popular stuff) about today’s science followed by a class discussion of the relationship between nutrition and health. This seminar will enhance the understanding of the many relations of nutritional science to society, and how nutritional needs change throughout the lifespan and during stress and exercise, as well as of the factors affecting risk of chronic disease, including family history, health behaviors, and food intake.

 

The Obesity Epidemic: Man AND Man’s Best Friend
Instructors: Ellen Evans, associate professor of kinesiology, and Cynthia Ward, professor of veterinary medicine
The obesity epidemic is our greatest public health challenge, with children being of the highest concern. It is well documented that parent weight status predicts risk for childhood obesity from both nature (genetic) and nurture (environment) factors. But have you also heard the expression that dogs resemble their owners? Our companion animals are similar to children in that the owner largely determines lifestyle choices in terms of eating and physical activity patterns. This course will review the parallel between humans and companion animals (dogs and cats) in the following: 1) energy balance determinants, 2) diagnosing obesity, 3) clinical diseases associated with obesity, especially type 2 diabetes mellitus, and 4) treatment strategies. Although some seminar sessions will include lectures and discussions led by Professors Evans and Ward, the majority of the sessions will include lab tours and demonstrations, group discussions, in-class debates regarding current issues, and reflective writing assignments.

 

 

Obesity Initiative receives funding for preliminary research

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

The University of Georgia Obesity Initiative is granting $100,000 to better understand causes and factors of obesity in children and adults.

The preliminary data research grants of $25,000 will help achieve two critical goals, said Clifton Baile, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Agricultural Biotechnology, Distinguished Professor of Animal Science and Food and Nutrition, and director of the UGA Obesity Initiative.

“First, they will enhance collaboration between groups that have not previously worked together, thus increasing the novelty and innovation of the projects,” he said. “And second, the proposals chosen for funding have a high potential of obtaining data that will support funding of more comprehensive projects by external agencies.”

Fifteen proposals competed for a share of the $100,000 grant pool. The four approved projects will enhance current and future grant proposals.

  • “Physical Activity and Overweight Children’s Academic Achievement” is a project by College of Education kinesiology professors Phillip D. Tomporowski, Bryan McCullick and Michael Horvat. They will train paraprofessionals at Chase Street Elementary School to conduct field tests that measure how physical activity games affect children’s movement and motor skills. The group will use the results to submit a grant proposal to the Georgia Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center program.
  • “Sleep Apnea and Obesity Exacerbate Cardiovascular Disease via Epigenetic Mechanisms” will expand initial studies evaluating how epigenetics place sleep apnea patients at risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Previous work found patients with sleep apnea have difficulty losing weight. Furthermore, weight gain increases the severity of sleep apnea. Researchers include: Brad Phillips, Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy; Jonathan Arnold and Richard Meagher, genetics, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Mary Anne Della-Fera, animal and dairy science, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Alicia Smith, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University.
  • “Adenovirus, Obesity and Bone Strength in Preadolescent Children” seeks to better understand the relationship between bone density and adenovirus (Ad36) infections in young children.  Previous work by this team found that Ad36 infections are not only associated with obesity but also with smaller, weaker bones in obese young adult females, ages 18 and 19. Because 90 percent of adult bone mass and strength is achieved before this time, this study will seek data about younger children to better understand the interactions between Ad36, obesity and bone. UGA scientists working on the project include: Richard D. Lewis and Emma Laing, foods and nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences; Ralph A. Tripp and Stephen M. Tompkins, infectious diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • “Determining the Link Between Adenovirus Infection and Obesity and the Ability of Mesenchymal Stem Cells to be Converted onto Adipocytes, Chondrocytes and Osteocytes” looks to expand on previous research showing a correlation among human adenoviruses infections, a predisposition to obesity, and low bone mass and strength in female adolescents. The project seeks to determine if infection with specific adenovirus serotypes affect the ability of mesenchymal stem cells to be converted into adipocytes (fat cells), chondrocytes (cartilage cells) and osteocytes (bone cells). Collaborators on the project include: Ralph A. Tripp and S. Mark Tompkins, infectious diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine; and Stephen Dalton, biochemistry and molecular biology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

 

UGA workshop: Future of food focused on small-scale, sustainable farms

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Urban agriculture could help obesity. At the “Future of Food” workshop featured previously on this blog, proponents of local eating emphasized that sustainable farms are possible in cities such as Atlanta and Athens.

Check out the coverage by the Athens Banner-Herald. The keynote speaker touched on the link between obesity and locally-grown food:

“Atlanta is the greenest city in the country in terms of trees and open space,” said Rashid Nuri, chief executive officer of Atlanta’s Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture. “We’ve got enough land to feed the city.”

Nuri, the president of Georgia Organics, was the keynote speaker for the day-long workshop, sponsored by UGA’s Center for Integrative Conservation Research, along with several other UGA schools and departments. Nuri’s non-profit Truly Living Well Center grows about 30,000 pounds of food each year on small spots scattered throughout the city.

A Harvard graduate who spent most of his adult life working in agriculture, Nuri told an audience of the many benefits of urban agriculture, from healthier food for low-income people in the city to reducing Georgia’s ballooning obesity rates.

OI in the News – Obesity rates high in Athens

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

And another day of publication – this time an in-depth story about obesity in Athens, featured in Flagpole.

A Supersized Problem: Tackling the Obesity Epidemic

The Federation of Neighborhoods asked Paige Cummings what is the biggest health care crisis in Northeast Georgia.

“Obesity,” the executive director of Athens Nurses Clinic answered. “Without hesitation.”

The clinic sees about 1,100 clients each year, and two-thirds are obese, not just overweight, Cummings notes. Most of these patients also suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes. The clinic partners with Athens Regional Medical Center to teach hypertension classes, and every diabetic patient receives one-on-one review sessions, but it’s not enough.

“The biggest problem is, once you reach a certain level of obesity, you’re too embarrassed to go out in public to exercise, or it’s uncomfortable and it hurts to do it,” Cummings explains. “We help them to do enough to get their heart rate going and a metabolic boost without falling in the floor and not be able to breathe. Straight arm lifts with a can of soup, shoulder shrugs, push ups against the wall, and walking briskly so they can feel their heart beating harder.”

OI in the News – Educational games about obesity

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Check out my first article in Georgia Health News! We have great research going on here at UGA.

Beehive game teaches kids how to keep obesity at bay

Video games are often accused of contributing to childhood obesity. But they also may be able to help fight it, says a group of University of Georgia professors who have created the educational video game Bee Tees.

Bee Tees, a play on the word “diabetes,” makes players responsible for the health of a beehive. As the bees, controlled by the player, bring in food, the hive creates honey and grows larger. But if the bees bring in too much food, the hive begins to decay.

This scenario may not correspond to the real world of beekeeping. But the game’s creators hope it will be a fun way to start the conversation with students about understanding and managing their bodies.

Obesity and disease prevention – Check out Science’s special edition

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Science just released a special issue on Disease Prevention. This is why:

Heart disease, metabolic disease, cancer, and respiratory disease together account for 60% of all deaths worldwide and 80% of deaths in low- and middle-income countries. Global projections for dementia are particularly alarming: By the year 2050, the disorder may affect more than 100 million people.

Logic dictates that preventing these diseases is a better approach than treating people after they have become ill. In many cases, the knowledge and tools needed for prevention appear to be in place. A number of these killer diseases share risk factors that can be modified by lifestyle changes—for example, by eliminating tobacco use, eating less processed food, and increasing physical activity. For certain cancers, screening tests are available that allow detection of the disease at an early stage. So why is prevention of these diseases so difficult when it seems like such a good idea on paper?

Sounds like many of our problems are tied to the increasing rates of obesity and its effects. There are some fascinating articles linked to obesity, especially these:

Tackling America’s Eating Habits, One Store at a Time

 Fetal and Early Childhood Undernutrition, Mortality, and Lifelong Health

Obesity and Celebrities: Bill Cosby and Jerry Rice speak up

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Obesity in America, Obesity in the News

Just in time for some Monday Night Football, Jerry Rice is stepping up to talk about obesity.

CBS News gives us the scoop about the NFL’s new program. You can read the same in the Fox News report:

The “60 Million Minutes Challenge” asks kids of all ages to pledge to be active for 60 minutes every day. It’s part of the NFL’s PLAY 60 program, a new initiative launched Monday.

“To reverse the trend of childhood obesity, we need to continue to educate kids and parents about the importance of 60 minutes of daily activity,” Rice said. “That’s what’s great about Kinect for Xbox 360. It gets kids off the couch and gets their whole body in the game. Being a healthy kid can lead to being a healthy adult.”

The folks at the NFL and Microsoft Corp., which makes the Xbox 360 video system central to this initiative, are offering incentives such as gift cards for merchandise and personalized autographs on Facebook to youngsters who join up.

Because the entire body is the controller through Kinect for Xbox 360, the amount of exercise a player gets easily dwarfs the more conventional approaches for video games in which the fingers and the wrists get the biggest workouts.

In addition, Bill Cosby popped up at a panel discussion on the health of Philadelphia. The overwhelming worry was about obesity.

CBS Philly shows us his personality on the panel:

Cosby displayed his health activist side by suggesting a mid-afternoon snack of a little baggie of meat protein and a second of veggies as a way to avoid a caffeine jolt or ripping open a snack pack of something.

“If I read the small print and I see that what I love to taste has predatomapotamine, fake slimotanimlaning, I don’t care,” says Cosby. “I just want to eat it.”

School lunches served in the low-income program took a hit, as three forms of sugar with a little canned fruit thrown in.