New strategic plan for NIH obesity research seeks to curb epidemic
In 2008, obesity-related medical costs were an estimated $147 billion. To combat the obesity epidemic, the National Institutes of Health is encouraging diverse scientific investigations through a new Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research.
Balintfy: More than one-third of adults in the United States and nearly 17 percent of the nationís children are now obese. This increases a person's chance of developing many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and some cancers.
Collins: We know a fair amount about the science of obesity, but there's a lot more we need to know.
Balintfy: Dr. Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health. He says that if you are in a family where obesity has been a problem, your risk goes up.
Collins: Certainly we know that heredity plays a role.
Balintfy: He adds that research is starting to show the specific genes that are involved.
Collins: But we also know that diet and exercise play an enormous role. Presumably the reason that obesity is increasing so rapidly in the U.S. is not because the gene pool has changed, itís because thereís less exercise, in many situations, and the diet is increasingly one that predisposes, to weight gain. But exactly how to take that information and fold it together into interventions is a critical part of what we need to do; and certainly a major motivator for this new strategic plan, is to not just know whatís causing this, but what to do about it.
Balintfy: The National Institutes of Health has launched a new Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research. The plan, developed by the NIH Obesity Research Task Force, recognizes that eating less and exercising more is easier said than done.
Collins: Itís way too simplistic to say, well, people should just eat less and exercise more. That isnít going to solve the problem. There are many other factors that are we partly aware of, but need to know more about.
Balintfy: Highlighting the crucial role of research in efforts to reduce obesity, the plan emphasizes moving science from laboratory to clinical trials to practical solutions, and is designed to help target efforts and resources in areas most likely to help.
Collins: This strategic plan does cover the waterfront, from very basic science investigations, which are critical to develop that foundation of information that we need to build plans on top of. But itís very focused on getting to practical solutions. This is not ivory tower stuff. This is basically taking a very serious public health situation and trying to come up with solutions, in not 100 years from now, but in a much shorter time frame, that can turn this problem around.
Balintfy: Research recommendations in the plan include discovering key processes that regulate body weight and influence behavior; understanding the factors that contribute to obesity and its consequences; and designing and testing new approaches for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Collins: And then, once we have some ideas about interventions that do seem to work in that situation, then there will be an effort to try to generalize them.
Balintfy: To increase the reach of research and improve public health, the plan also highlights education and outreach to move proven strategies into community programs and medical practice. Dr. Collins highlights the WeCan! program.
Collins: We Can! is an innovative program that reaches out to families and communities to try to tackle the problem of childhood obesity. It provides educational materials, for parents in particular, to try to help them do the right thing, to reduce this risk for their kids.
Balintfy: NIH has already invested in research to reduce the prevalence of obesity and its health consequences: namely $824 million in fiscal year 2010, plus awards totaling $147 million made in the same year through the Recovery Act. To learn more about obesity research and the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research, visit www.obesityresearch.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Francis Collins
Topic: obesity, obesity research, obesity epidemic, strategic plan, diet, exercise, risk
Additional Info: New strategic plan for NIH obesity research seeks to curb epidemic