UGA pilot study lays ground for helping Ga. workers manage weight and reduce diabetes


Obesity in the Workplace

Here’s a story that I reported this semester that will become more significant as the UGA Workplace Health Group publishes results from their study in a couple of years …

Athens, Ga. – Once Juanita North started writing it all down, she began making changes in her portion sizes and paying attention to fat grams in foods.

North and colleagues in the University of Georgia’s parking services department participated in a pilot study by UGA’s Workplace Health Group aimed at health and weight management in the workplace. North, who manages the department’s front desk as an administrative assistant, joined nine other UGA employees each Thursday morning to set goals and talk about their struggles with eating and exercise. At the end of the six-month program, most of the group lost a few pounds. Now, as they work through the “maintenance” portion of the program, they’re trying to keep it off.

“You must be aware of everything. You may think you’re on track, but you’re not,” North said. “When you write down everything, it makes you think. Then you start realizing what you’re not doing to help yourself.”

The pilot group followed the Fuel Your Life program, a worksite adaptation of the national Diabetes Prevention Program created by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It encourages users to move through lessons in a manual and discuss habits with peers, such as boosting physical activity and developing healthier eating habits.

“I encouraged my co-workers to go to the meetings so we could all get ideas about healthy eating and exercise,” North said. “We all need to lose weight and say we will, but we never do. There were a lot of excuses, but by the end, everyone was on board and looking forward to each week.”

Now the researchers are taking what they learned at UGA on the road to help government workers in Athens, Columbus, and Macon with their caloric intake and physical activity.

Mark Wilson, director of the research group and head of the department of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, received a grant in 2011 to test different versions of the Diabetes Prevention Program among municipal employees in Athens-Clarke County, Columbus and Macon. The $3 million, five-year grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, allows the group to run several trials of the 12-month weight management program in each city starting this month.

The intervention program tests three different formats designed to improve the health of the government employees. The first is a group-centered approach, similar to the one used with the parking services group, in which about 10 participants regularly meet to share progress and provide support. The second approach fosters engagement with a health coach via telephone. The third group receives the educational manual to set goals and work through alone while recording eating and physical activity habits.

“Worksites haven’t been attuned to this idea of a health program on site,” said Wilson, who has been researching worksite health for three decades. “But they have become interested in this in the past few years because employees have health issues that lead to huge costs.”

The average employee gains about three pounds each year, Wilson said. Losing weight is hard enough, and Wilson wants to help state government employees to maintain their weight from year to year.

Once Wilson’s team completes this study, the next step may be ramping up the intensity of the program in order to increase weight loss. In addition, Wilson is interested in studying how worksites can adapt the national Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, which advises older adults how to manage pain linked with diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, and is often used in community settings such as senior centers.

“Due to the recession, more individuals stayed in the workforce who would have retired,” Wilson said. “There are some who went back into the workforce as well, and employers are finding this new program attractive in helping them.”

Wilson teamed up with Don Walters, parking services manager and a fellow UGA Ramsey Center exerciser, to start the pilot study on campus. Walters encouraged his employees to take time on Thursday mornings to participate and keep each other accountable.

“The parking services group was so supportive of each other and positive,” said Tiffany Howard, a Workplace Health Group coach who directed the weekly meetings. “It’s easy to overlook how much time we spend at work doing our responsibilities and how much that impacts our health, and I think this group was able to build relationships and a support team to discuss that.”

As part of the program, North incorporated walking into her daily routine again. Some parking services employees decided to walk more during rounds on campus, and others took time to exercise at the Ramsey Center next door. Now that the group is entering the maintenance phase and trying to keep up the good habits, North hopes other campus workers can participate in a similar group meeting.

“It’s a valuable program, and it needs to continue to give other employees a chance,” North said. “On the whole, there’s not a program for employees to discuss and receive valuable information about eating and exercise, and this encourages employees to get out and do more.”

Back from the break? Keep up the exercise!


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Dr. Bailey doing leg presses

Ready for the rest of the semester? Don’t forget to keep walking! Obesity Initiative director Cliff Baile was featured in Walk Georgia while we were out, and he has great thoughts about staying active.

Check out part of the interview below, and read the full post here:

What motivates you to stay healthy?

I seldom have not had a regular exercise routine since playing competitive team sports during my early years in junior high, high school and college. I think it is one of the reasons that I didn’t miss a workday due to an illness during my first 45 years after joining the work force.

What do you enjoy most about exercising?

I do challenging workouts, which have resulted in tons of sweat over the years. I find the routines relaxing, and they act as stress reducer for the challenges endured each day. When I was younger, competitive sports were even more enjoyable.

What do you do to stay fit?

I visit Ramsey every day (when I’m not traveling) and have a 5-day routine, which includes cardiovascular and weight training muscle groups, as well as balancing and core exercises. These workouts average about one hour.

How do you make time for exercise?

I give exercise a priority, and I can usually schedule time every day for a workout, even when traveling.

UGA Alumni Association supports Obesity Initiative with ‘Dawgs on the Move’


Obesity Initiative at UGA

The Dawgs on the Move program is expanding! The Alumni Association is now pairing its annual Dawg Trot 5K with the Obesity Initiative to support physical activity. Want to run in Athens on the second weekend of spring break? Join in!

Here’s the info from the Alumni Association:

The University of Georgia Alumni Association is partnering with UGA’s Obesity Initiative to present “Dawgs on the Move,” a program that promotes a healthy lifestyle.

“Dawgs on the Move” is designed to encourage UGA alumni and friends to participate in physical activities-from organized races to family bike rides. The program aims to raise awareness for UGA’s Obesity Initiative, which was launched in January 2012 to address Georgia’s multi-faceted obesity problem through treatment, prevention and research.

The first event is planned in conjunction with the Albany Marathon and Half Marathon March 2. The night before the race, the Alumni Association will hold a Pre-Race Carb Up Dinner at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albany. The dinner is March 1 from 6-8 p.m. and will feature a carb- and protein-rich meal of baked spaghetti with ground turkey, vegetarian pasta, salad, green beans and dessert. Registration is $15 per person.

On March 16, the Alumni Association will host the Sixth Annual Dawg Trot 5K, a walk, jog or run through the university’s historic campus. Nearly 1,000 people participate every year. An official Run and See Georgia Grand Prix race, Dawg Trot times can be used to qualify for an earlier starting time at the Peachtree Road Race and other official races across the country. For more information on the Dawg Trot, see

For more information about “Dawgs on the Move,” see the UGA Alumni Association website at, or contact Margaret Sullivan, Atlanta programs coordinator, at or 404/814-8818

Research teams use grant to investigate vaccine for obesity


Obesity & Immunology, Obesity Initiative at UGA

More Obesity Initiative news in Columns! Check out this great update for the Obesity & Immunology team.

Here’s a snippet of the Columns article that I wrote:

Since discovered as a way to prevent smallpox in the 1700s, vaccines have earned a spot among the greatest advances in medicine. Now, UGA researchers are looking to vaccines to prevent obesity, one of the biggest health challenges facing not just the U.S., but countries worldwide.

Obesity is now understood to be caused by a complex interaction of genetic, behavioral, nutritional and-scientists now believe-viral factors, opening the door for potential prevention with a vaccine.

“We’re taking advantage of the fact that a unique variation, or serotype, of adenovirus has been found to cause obesity in animal models and has been associated with obesity in humans,” said Ralph Tripp, professor of infectious diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Vaccine Development.

Tripp is part of two research teams that received $25,000 each from UGA’s Obesity Initiative to collect initial data for current and future grant proposals. One is investigating obesity and bone strength, and the other is researching obesity and stem cells.

“By teaming with professors in foods and nutrition, infectious disease, and biochemistry and molecular biology, we’re able to combine our strengths to look at how infectious disease and stem cell development can impact obesity,” Tripp said. “We’ve brought together the various sciences for which we didn’t previously have expertise.”

Dawgs on the Move: Albany Marathon Pre-race Carb Up Dinner


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Dawgs are on the move! Come fuel up with fellow UGA alumni runners the night before the Albany Marathon & Half Marathon at our first Dawgs on the Move: Albany Pre-Race Carb Up Dinner. As you prep for your long run, join us to learn about the Alumni Association’s partnership with the University of Georgia’s Obesity Initiative, which strives to promote a healthy lifestyle by getting alumni moving.

Check out the event details and sign up!

The University of Georgia launched the Obesity Initiative in January 2012 in an effort to tackle Georgia’s multi-faceted obesity problem through treatment, prevention, and research. In order to raise awareness of the Obesity Initiative, the UGA Alumni Association created the Dawgs on the Move program to encourage UGA alumni to participate in physical activities. Whether alumni are inspired to participate in organized races or take part in a family bike ride, Dawgs on the Move celebrates and rewards the effort to be active. While the Obesity Initiative focuses on the state of Georgia, Dawgs on the Move will gather UGA Alumni and friends at walking and running events throughout the country. For more information about UGA’s Obesity Initiative, visit

Our dinner will feature a healthy carb and protein rich meal of baked spaghetti with ground turkey, vegetarian whole wheat pasta, salad, green beans, and dessert. We look forward to providing you and your friends & family with a delicious meal guaranteed to give you the necessary energy for the miles ahead. Come out to carb up before the Albany Marathon & Half Marathon to learn more about how you can be involved in Dawgs on the Move!

DawgsMOVE teams help UGA employees to stay fit


Obesity in the Workplace, Obesity Initiative at UGA

The University’s kinesiology department is doing it again. They’re reaching out to employees to help with health and wellness, and a new aspect of the DawgsMOVE program will provide a health coach and motivation to get moving.

Here’s the description about BlackDawg:

A brand new health and wellness program for faculty, staff, retirees, and their dependents. This program allows members to get oriented to the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activity. It offers faculty/staff only group workouts and facilitated group exercise. Each member will be assigned a health coach who will help with accountability, progress tracking, and motivation. The ultimate goal of the BlackDawgs option is to give members the confidence and knowledge to be self-sufficient in leading a long-term healthy lifestyle.

The total membership cost per month is $35. There’s an existing RedDawgs program as well:

The RedDawgs program is an already existing program in the Kinesiology department. The RedDawgs program is open to the community and is located downstairs in the Ramsey building. This program accommodates both healthy adults and individuals with chronic diseases who have received physician clearance for participation in a supervised exercise program.

There’s also a combined Black & RedDawgs program:

The Black&RedDawgs is a hybrid program of both the RedDawgs and BlackDawgs programs. Members of this program enjoy a multitude of options when it comes to their personal fitness. Members of the Black&RedDawgs will receive all of the benefits from both programs.

Perhaps these programs could lead to a new atmosphere of health and wellness for UGA employees!


Parasitic worms could help fight obesity-related diseases


Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Studies

Say what? Now this is an interesting story written by James Hataway, a colleague in the Office for the Vice President of Research.

The intro is pretty great. Check it out this UGA News release:

On the list of undesirable medical conditions, a parasitic worm infection surely ranks fairly high. Although modern pharmaceuticals have made them less of a threat in some areas, these organisms are still a major cause of disease and disability throughout much of the developing world.

But parasites are not all bad, according to new research by a team of scientists now at the University of Georgia, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Université François Rabelais in Tours, France, and the Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China.

A study published recently in Nature Medicine demonstrates that once inside a host, many parasitic worms secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might actually help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

The story was immediately featured in several outlets, including this Atlanta Business Chronicle article. Want to know how this is possible? Check it out:

A study demonstrates that once inside a host, many parasitic worms secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might actually help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

The sugar molecule, or glycan, is released by parasites to help them evade the body’s immune system. By reducing inflammation, they are better able to hide in tissues, and humans experience fewer symptoms that might reveal their presence.

“Obesity is an inflammatory disease, so we hypothesized that this sugar might have some effect on complications related to it,” said Donald Harn, Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Infectious Diseases.

New Mexico State University researchers study student and staff obesity


Obesity Initiative at UGA

University of Georgia professors hope to start some wellness programs on campus for staff and faculty. It looks like some other universities around the country have the same idea and could provide some insight.

From the Associated Press:

New Mexico State University researchers have launched a study to examine obesity among NMSU students and employees.

Researchers recently developed an online survey aimed at finding out more on obesity and lifestyle factors of students and employees, especially in southern New Mexico

So far, the survey has found that 47 percent of NMSU and employee respondents self-reported as overweight or obese.

Susan Wilson, an associate professor in NMSU’s Department of Health Science and the study’s lead researcher, says she would like to see future studies that look more closely at stressors in the environment and “culturally acceptable versus ideal notions of weight and obesity.”

Obesity bigger health crisis than hunger, global report states


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Here’s the second huge media crazy about obesity recently. Obesity is now a bigger health concern globally than hunger. Are we really surprised? And if that’s true, how can we reconcile these two ends?

Here’s a bit of the CNN story that’s being featured in countless outlets:

Obesity is a bigger health crisis globally than hunger, and the leading cause of disabilities around the world, according to a new report published Thursday in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Nearly 500 researchers from 50 countries compared health data from 1990 through 2010 for the Global Burden of Disease report, revealing what they call a massive shift in global health trends.

“We discovered that there’s been a huge shift in mortality. Kids who used to die from infectious disease are now doing extremely well with immunization,” said Ali Mokdad, co-author of the study and professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which led the collaborative project.

“However, the world is now obese and we’re seeing the impact of that.”

The report revealed that every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82% globally in the past two decades. Middle Eastern countries are more obese than ever, seeing a 100% increase since 1990.

“The so-called ‘Western lifestyle’ is being adapted all around the world, and the impacts are all the same,” Mokdad said.

The health burden from high body mass indexes now exceeds that due to hunger, according to the report.

And for the first time, noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease top the list of leading causes of years spent sick or injured.

Youth obesity falls in several cities


Obesity Initiative at UGA

The latest obesity news to go big in the media — obesity rates are falling in some cities. But does this mean we can rest easy? I don’t think so.

Here’s a snippet of the New York Times story about it all:

After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.

The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

The first dips — noted in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — were so surprising that some researchers did not believe them.

Deanna M. Hoelscher, a researcher at the University of Texas, who in 2010 recorded one of the earliest declines — among mostly poor Hispanic fourth graders in the El Paso area — did a double-take. “We reran the numbers a couple of times,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Will you please check that again for me?’ ”