UGA researchers present at ObesityWeek


Obesity Initiative at UGA

obesity week logo-2013_r02 Atlanta was the place to be last week for obesity researchers and doctors. Over 20 University of Georgia faculty and students joined researchers and health professionals from around the world at ObesityWeek, a conference that joined the annual meetings of The Obesity Society and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Nearly 25 UGA researchers – both faculty members and graduate students – attended the conference.  Some even presented their own obesity-related findings. Plant compounds, or phytochemicals, were the focus of several of these obesity research projects.

One project suggested phytochemicals might prevent weight gain by causing certain fat cells to work harder.  Colette Miller, a graduate student in the foods and nutrition department, presented research on phytochemicals and brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that uses energy to provide heat. Miller’s findings suggested a combination of phytochemicals could cause these fat cells to work harder in rats, potentially preventing weight gain. Her poster was entitled “Dietary Phytochemicals Increase Brown Adipose Tissue Activity in Adult Ovariectomized Rats.”

Phytochemicals may also fight obesity by affecting the brain. Damage to an area of the brain called the hippocampus can result in irregular eating behaviors. Some phytochemicals, such as genistein, can help protect the brain from damage. Emily England, a graduate student in UGA’s interdisciplinary neuroscience Ph.D. program, presented research comparing the effects on rats of a phytochemical combination with genistein alone.  Her poster, entitled “Genistein Enhances Expression of Genes Associated with Memory and Eating Behaviors in the Ventral Hippocampus of Ovariectomized Rats” showed the combination to be no more beneficial than genistein alone.

See below for the titles of other research projects by UGA faculty and students that were presented at the conference:

“Osteogenic and Anti-Adipogenic Effects of Guggulsterone in Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells” - Srujana Rayalam, Suwanee, GA; Jeong Yeh Yang, MaryAnne Della-Fera, Clifton A. Baile, Athens, GA

“Phloretin Prevents, but Not Reverses High Fat Diet-Induced Obesity and Hepatic Steatosis in Mice” - Sary Alsanea, Mingming Gao, Dexi Liu, Athens, GA

“Chlorogenic Acid Suppresses High Fat Diet-Induced Inflammation and Hepatic Steatosis” – Yongjie Ma, Mingming Gao, Dexi Liu, Athens, GA

“Affinity Tagging of Adipocyte Nuclei in Mice to Examine Epigenetic Controls in Obesity” – Richard Meagher, Suresh Ambati, Elizabeth C. McKinney, Clifton A. Baile, Athens, GA

“Isolated Nuclei for the Cell-Type Specific Analysis of Neurons and Adipocytes” - Richard Meagher Athens, GA; Eric B. Dammer, Nicholas Seyfried Atlanta, GA; Clifton A. Bail, Athens, GA

“Simplified WBC Type-Specific Isolation for Epigenetics on Obesity” - Natalie Hohos, Deanna Shade, Diane Hartzell, MaryAnne Della-Fera, Richard Meagher, Clifton A. Baile, Athens, GA

“Exercise Benefits on Cognition Vary by COMT Genotype and Sex in Overweight Children” - Cynthia Krafft Athens, GA; Jennifer L. Waller, Haidong Zhu, Norman K. Pollock, Jacob Looney, Celestine Williams, Augusta, GA; Jennifer McDowell, Athens, GA; Catherine L. Davis, Augusta, GA

“Genetic Variation in Neural Signaling Pathways and Exercise Adherence in the TIGER Study” - Molly S. Bray Austin, TX; Matthew P. Herring Birmingham, AL; Mary H. Sailors Houston, TX; Rodney K. Dishman, Athens, GA; Daniel P. O’Connor, Andrew S. Jackson Houston, TX

“Rutin Suppresses Palmitic Acids-Triggered Inflammation in Macrophages and Blocks High Fat Diet-Induced Obesity and Fatty Liver in Mice” – Mingming Gao, Yongjie Ma, Dexi Liu, Athens, GA

“Under The Radar: The Skinny on Obesity in Normal Weight First Year College Women” -  Michael V. Fedewa, Bhibha M. Das, Michael D. Schmidt, Ellen M. Evans, Athens, GA

“Dietary phytochemicals reduce hepatic lipogenesis and lipotoxicity in the post-menopausal rat model” - Tucker Avra, Colette Miller, Suresh Ambati, Erica Bass, Natalie Hohos, Emily England, Diane Hartzell, MaryAnne Della-Fera, Athens GA;  Srujana Rayalam, Suwanne, GA; Clifton Baile, Athens, GA


No perfect diet


Obesity in the News

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

A variety of diets can be successfully used for weight loss, according to a USA Today article on the new obesity treatment guidelines released Tuesday. The goal should be to burn more calories than consumed, regardless of whether that’s achieved through a diet low in fat or low in carbohydrates.

The guidelines, prepared by the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Obesity Society, urge doctors to fight obesity aggressively, according to USA Today. The recommendations suggest a weight loss goal of 5 to 10 percent for obese patients, using both diet and exercise.  Interestingly, USA Today reports that the guidelines also suggest bariatric surgery maybe be beneficial for adults with a BMI of 40 or higher.


Exercise could make kids better test-takers


Obesity Initiative at UGA

child with stack of books

Image courtesy of africa/

Children who spent more time exercising made higher scores on English, math and science tests, according to a study co-authored by University of Georgia’s Phillip Tomporowski, who is a professor in UGA’s department of kinesiology.

The study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in October, compared the physical activity of 4755 children from the U.K. The children wore accelerometers, devices that measure motion, to track their physical activity for three to seven days. Their performance on national exams was then measured at the ages of 11, 13, and 15/16.

The greater the amount of physical activity children had at age 11, the higher they scored on the tests. Girls with higher physical activity did especially well on the science tests.

Tomporowski and the other authors noted that physical activity could increase test scores by improving executive function, which includes mental processes such as planning, remembering details and managing attention. See this article in the Huffington Post for more on this and other studies related to exercise and the brain.

The workout plateau


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Image courtesy of vorakorn/

Image courtesy of vorakorn/

It’s three weeks from spring break, and you step on the scale, wondering how many more pounds you can shave off before you hit the beach.  The number you see isn’t encouraging.  It hasn’t changed in several days, despite your continued workouts.  You’ve hit a plateau.

Both weight loss and strength training efforts tend to show lots of progress at first, while results lessen with time.  This pattern isn’t random.  In fact, science can predict when you’ll plateau, as well as how much weight you can lose – or muscle you can gain – before you do.

In his new book, “The Plateau Principle,” James Hargrove explains why plateaus occur and how people can use this knowledge to set realistic weight loss and strength training goals.

“The pattern will always be one of large early change that slows over time,” said Hargrove, associate professor emeritus of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia.

We may be trying to lose fat or increase muscle, but our bodies automatically bring us back to a balance between the gain and loss of these tissues.

“After six months of weight loss, even if the person has not lost a great deal of weight, they’ll usually plateau,” said Connie Crawley, who works as an extension nutrition and health specialist for UGA Cooperative Extension.  Continued weight loss or muscle gain requires a person to make changes to their workout plan.

In the first part of his book, Hargrove uses illustrations from scientific studies about weight loss, weight gain and strength training to help readers understand how the body adjusts during a workout program.

The second half of the book teaches readers how to apply what they’ve learned to their own workout plans.  Readers can monitor their weight once a week and enter these data into an Excel spreadsheet that Hargrove provides on the book’s website.

The spreadsheet is built around the plateau principle, which is actually a mathematical equation.  This equation uses the rate at which a person is losing weight in their current workout plan to calculate the amount of weight they’ll drop before losses grind to a halt.  A person can also determine how long it will take to lose the weight.

A similar spreadsheet predicts how much muscle someone in a strength training program can gain over time.  People can also find out how quickly they will gain weight or lose strength if they stop their training program.

“The plateau principle can tell you if you need to increase your training or perhaps decrease it,” Hargrove said.

Experts James Hill and Rena Wing suggest only 20 percent of overweight and obese people in the U.S. have lost weight successfully without regaining it. Dietitians and personal trainers can help people find ways to change their training and break through a plateau. Hargrove explains how readers can design their own spreadsheets to help themselves or their clients make and track these training goals.

Hargrove’s book, which was published through CreateSpace in September, can be found online through

Genetics and obesity expert to speak Oct. 1


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Claude Bouchard

Dr. Claude Bouchard

Eating more calories than you burn is a surefire way to put on the pounds. But do certain people’s genes put them at greater risk for weight gain and obesity?

World-renowned geneticist Claude Bouchard will discuss this and other obesity-related controversies during the fall 2013 Boyd Lecture on Oct. 1.  The lecture, titled “The Obesity Epidemic: Reflection on Contentious Issues” will take place at 3:30 p.m. in the UGA Hotel and Conference Center’s Mahler Hall.

Bouchard directs the Human Genomics Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center where he studies the genetics of obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

“Dr. Bouchard has been active in obesity-related research for decades, and he has helped shape policy on obesity and physical activity in the U.S. and abroad,” said Clifton Baile, director of the UGA Obesity Initiative, in a recent UGA Today news release.

In addition to the Boyd Lecture, Bouchard will also be giving a scientific lecture geared at faculty and staff.  This lecture “The Genomic and Epigenomic Evidence Among the Multiple Determinants of Obesity” will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Oct. 1, in room 203 of the Ramsey Center.

Read the UGA news release here for more information.

Public health dean to help governor fight childhood obesity


Obesity Initiative at UGA

When it comes to staying fit, Georgia hasn’t always been the best place for children. Our beloved state used to have the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the U.S.  Fortunately, that rate has since decreased, moving Georgia to spot number 17.  But the state’s fight continues, and UGA’s Phillip Williams, dean of the College of Public Health, is stepping into the ring.

Williams was invited by Gov. Nathan Deal to help guide Georgia’s efforts to fight childhood obesity as a part of the newly formed Governor’s Advisory Council on Childhood Obesity, according to a recent UGA Today press release.

The council will guide Deal in the best ways to reduce the numbers of obese and overweight children, as well as support the governor’s Georgia SHAPE program, an effort to make reducing obesity a priority across the state. Georgia SHAPE includes initiatives like Power Up for 30, a voluntary program that encourages elementary schools around Georgia to add an extra 30 minutes of physical activity into each school day.

“I look forward to leveraging UGA’s assets and expertise in obesity research, instruction and outreach to address this important public health issue,” Williams said.

In addition to Williams, the 16-member council includes Deal; Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle; Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. surgeon general and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director; and other leaders from the fields of public and private health, education, business and nutrition.

Read the rest of the UGA Today press here:

Travel across the state with Walk Georgia


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Following Interstate 75, it would take the average person around five full days to walk across the state of Georgia. But if you can’t take that much time off work, try traversing Georgia virtually with Walk Georgia, a UGA Cooperative Extension fitness program that started this week.


Participants track their physical activity online for 12 weeks – either as an individual or a 4-person team.  Time spent in various forms of physical activity – from biking to bowling – is translated into miles “walked” across the state.  As the exercisers log miles, they will move across a virtual map of Georgia and learn fun facts about the different counties they visit. Walkers can also see how their activity compares to others in the program – with the goal for all participants to reach at least 15 miles per week.

Email registration for the program opened Sept. 1 and will last until Oct. 9. Members can begin logging their miles right away and have until Nov. 23 to make their way across the state.  Check out to register or get more details.

Doctoring differently


Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA

More Americans are dying from cardiovascular disease each year than people in France, Japan or Israel. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and America also has a greater percentage of obese people than any of these countries do.

UGA researchers traveled to France, Israel and Japan to see if these trends might be related to the way doctors in the different countries interact with their patients, according to a recent article in the Athens Banner-Herald.

 “We’re trying to figure out what is really happening when these visits with the doctors occur,” said Colleen O’Brien Cherry, an assistant research scientist at UGA’s Center for Global Health, told the Banner-Herald. “If the doctor is having a direct effect, that will help explain the lower cardiovascular death rates in these other countries.”

Most U.S. doctors didn’t talk about obesity with their patients at all, according to Cherry’s study.  However, in France doctors were much more likely to ask patients who gained weight about their eating habits and lifestyle.

Cherry and collaborator Richard Schuster, who is the director of the Center for Global Health in UGA’s College of Public Health, hope the research can be used to help improve the health care system in the U.S.

Read the rest of the Athens Banner-Herald article here.

Could obesity lead to lower pay?


Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA

Obesity rates vary by income, according to the 2013 F as in Fat annual report, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health.  However, does obesity actually lead to low wages? Michael Kofoed hopes to find out.

Kofoed, who is an economics doctoral student in the UGA Terry College of Business, is working with the Obesity Initiative to study the influence of obesity on unemployment and wages in the U.S. and Canada.  Companies hoping to be profitable base an employee’s wages on what they contribute to the firm’s productivity, and obesity reduces this productivity, Kofoed told the Athens Banner-Herald.

“If I become less productive because I become less healthy due to obesity, the firm logically will pay me less.”

His study “Is it better to be overweight in Canada or the United States?” also considers whether a country’s insurance system affects wages obese people receive.  According to Kofoed, an employer-based health insurance system, like the U.S. system, means companies pay for their employees’ obesity-related health problems.  In a single-payer system, like Canada’s system, the government pays for health insurance. In this system, obesity may have less of influence on wages because employers don’t pay for obesity-related health problems.

“I’m hoping to show people the connection between their health and their labor market outcome and hope my findings might offer another reason to motivate people to become more healthy,” he said.

Read more in the Athens Banner-Herald article.

Not a one-man job


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Fighting obesity requires more than just a well-informed dietitian or personal trainer. “It takes a village to overcome obesity,” according to a recent Red and Black editorial by Laura Thompson. And UGA’s Obesity Initiative is helping the school become that village, for the sake of its students and for the rest of the state.

According to Thompson, UGA has made great strides in combating the problem and should continue to use the campus-wide initiative to fight obesity in ways beyond the obvious.  When it comes to obesity education, anyone who can influence others should be tasked with advocating healthy practices.

“In order for the state to truly take control of its weight, obesity awareness needs to be common knowledge. We don’t need another 24-hour gym or organic smoothie stand, but rather, a shift toward a culture that challenges people and encourages them to carefully evaluate what is best for their bodies.”

Now that the university has taken the first step, Thompson says it’s the students responsibility to carry the message past the Arch.

Read the entire Red and Black editorial.