Photo by Bobbi Wallace

Why It Matters  |  What We Are Doing  |  Who Is Involved


Why It Matters

The world has a serious weight problem.  Obesity is no longer a problem that only affects wealthy countries and populations. Worldwide obesity prevalence has doubled since 1980, leading to rising numbers of people with chronic diseases such as diabetes. Two billion people are overweight, while 700 million are undernourished. 40 million children under 5 were overweight in 2011.  In Mexico, South Africa, Egypt, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Australia, about two-thirds of all adults are either overweight or obese. Weight problems during any stage of life increase risk for numerous serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, hypertension, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and breast, colon, and endometrial cancers.


What We Are Doing

Obesity is preventable. And treatable. The Gillings School has the top-ranked nutrition program in the U.S. Our faculty are national and global leaders in tackling the obesity epidemic.  We work at every level – from genomic research to community design to policy advances. Read More

More than 65 percent of American adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese, according to recent surveys. North Carolina ranks 41st among U.S. states in terms of overweight and obesity. People in North Carolina and the U.S. South suffer from high levels of heart disease and diabetes related to obesity.

Obesity is a multi-faceted problem that can be solved only by an integrated, interdisciplinary approach that translates research into meaningful and practical clinical and community solutions. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, more than 75 faculty members from 23 departments and seven UNC-Chapel Hill schools are working together to address these problems. These faculty members come from fields as diverse as mass communications, city and regional planning, health behavior, nutrition, epidemiology, biostatistics, psychology, medicine, biochemistry and genetics. In every department in the School, faculty conduct obesity-related research. This unique atmosphere at UNC-Chapel Hill has allowed us to be a global leader in understanding the causes and consequences of obesity.

For example, we are:

  • Developing and testing practical ways to change environments in child care centers to promote healthier habits in pre-school children;
  • Creating and testing Internet programs tailored to individuals of different ages to influence lifestyle and food choices;
  • Discovering new information about how fat is metabolized and uncovering links between metabolism and diabetes that could one day lead to reductions in the debilitation common with this disease;
  • Pinpointing the genes that make some animals crave physical activity while others avoid it, and preparing to do the same in humans;
  • Observing moms and babies to understand the effect of early interactions and feeding styles on the development of obesity;
  • Tracking changing nutrition patterns around the world and assessing reasons for rapid increases in overweight and obesity;
  • Testing neighborhood programs that support children walking to school;
  • Creating detailed maps of large sections of the country to understand how neighborhood characteristics influence physical activity and dietary habits of the people who live there;
  • Coordinating a national study of Hispanic obesity and diabetes;
  • Evaluating a multi-component approach to help American Indian youth and their families choose healthy foods and increase their physical activity to reduce risk for type 2 diabetes;
  • Developing tools to enable pediatricians to assess their patients’ body mass index (BMI) accurately;
  • Launching church-based programs aimed at African-American women and their daughters, testing peer-delivered obesity prevention programs, and developing physical activity programs for middle-school girls;
  • Developing processes for partnering family medicine practitioners with community resources to help patients make healthier choices; and
  • Discovering the particular risks that obese people face during flu epidemics, and the links between diet, exercise, and many cancers, and developing educational messages and campaigns to reduce these risks.

As leaders in moving from discovery to community and policy solutions, our focus is on solutions to real-world problems. We influence local, state, national and global policies and strategies as well as practical action to tackle obesity in North Carolina and around the world.

Who Is Involved

Our leaders in obesity come from across the Gilling School, and include our world-class faculty, staff, post-docs and students. This overview only captures a fraction of the important research, teaching, and public service efforts in obesity at the Gillings School. Please explore the individual leader descriptions to learn more about their work.