DHHS, NIH News  
National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Leslie Curtis, NIDDK

NIH Releases Research Strategy to Fight Obesity Epidemic

NIH Director Elias M. Zerhouni, M.D., today announced the release of the final version of the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research, a multi-dimensional research agenda to enhance both the development of new research in areas of greatest scientific opportunity and the coordination of obesity research across NIH. The report is on the web at obesityresearch.nih.gov.

"We are pleased about this focused effort to identify research opportunities in obesity. We are especially concerned about the serious problems we see emerging in overweight children. Many of these are problems that we used to see only in adults," said Zerhouni.

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has targeted obesity as a major priority of the Department. “There is no doubt that obesity is an epidemic that must be stopped. This plan gives us a clear focus for confronting obesity with science-based research approaches,” Thompson said.

Emphasizing the importance of cross-cutting investigations, the plan calls for interdisciplinary research teams to bridge the study of behavioral and environmental causes of obesity with the study of genetic and biologic causes. Lifestyle interventions could be improved through a greater understanding of genetic and biologic aspects and vice versa. Also, successful prevention and treatment of obesity may require a combination of behavioral, environmental and medical approaches in highly susceptible individuals.

The Plan calls for intensifying efforts along several fronts:

  • Behavioral and environmental approaches to modifying lifestyle to prevent or treat obesity
  • Pharmacologic, surgical and other medical approaches to effectively and safely prevent or treat obesity
  • Breaking the link between obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers
  • Research on special populations at high risk for obesity, including children, ethnic minorities, women and older adults
  • Translating basic science results into clinical research and then into community intervention studies
  • Disseminating research results to the public and health professionals.

The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 65 percent of U.S. adults — or about 129.6 million people — are either overweight or obese. In addition to decreasing quality of life and increasing the risk of premature death, obesity and overweight cost the Nation an estimated $117 billion in direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost wages due to illness.

Against this backdrop, Zerhouni created the NIH Obesity Research Task Force in the spring of 2003 to intensify basic and clinical research and to enhance coordination of obesity research across NIH. The group developed the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research with input from many scientists at academic and other settings across the country, organizations advocating for patients and health professionals, and other members of the public.

“By focusing on goals with the greatest scientific opportunity and challenge, we are optimistic that NIH can greatly expand the knowledge base on this complex, multi-faceted disorder,” said Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Spiegel also co-chairs the Task Force with Barbara Alving, M.D., Acting Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

NIH invested $378.6 million for obesity research in fiscal year 2003, will invest about $400.1 million in fiscal year 2004, and is projected to support obesity research amounting to about $440.3 million in fiscal year 2005, an increase of about 10 percent over 2004.

“Obesity increases individuals’ risk for a whole host of diseases, with cardiovascular disease right at the top of the list,” said Dr. Alving. “By addressing obesity in such a comprehensive way, NIH stands to make major inroads to helping both children and adults enjoy healthy and fully active lives.”
Printed copies of the Strategic Plan may be ordered from NIH’s Weight-control Information Network at (877) 946-4627 and online at www.niddk.nih.gov/health/nutrit/nutrit.htm.

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