Our Impact on Obesity
Buddy system helps vets stay healthy
Our nation’s veterans have higher rates of overweight and obesity than the general population. Nutrition research assistant professor Marlyn Allicock, PhD, works with the Veterans Administration to help vets shed unwanted pounds. Her project called MOVE! Buddy, is an enhancement to the Veteran Administration’s MOVE! (Managing Overweight/Obesity for Veterans Everywhere) program. It incorporates individual peer-to-peer support, group support therapy and other measures to help vets become more physically active and eat a healthy diet. Allicock collaborated on the development of the training DVD for MOVE! Buddy volunteers and is evaluating this volunteer veteran peer counselor program as it rolls out at five intervention sites across the country. The findings from this study will help the Veterans Affairs system, the largest health care organization in the U.S., to determine the value of adding peer support to the current MOVE! program to improve the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.
Salt, sweets, sodas and the small screen
Exercise is important. Eating healthy is wise. Watching too much television is bad. Although we are familiar with these tenants of healthy lifestyle, we know surprisingly little about the relationship between these three behaviors. Biostatistics research associate professor David Couper, PhD, worked with a team of epidemiologists and nutritionists from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to discover the odds of becoming fat or eating unhealthy foods based on TV watching habits. The research, led by epidemiology research professor Kelly Evenson, PhD, and doctoral student Anne-Marie Meyer involved more than 15,000 adults and was the first to measure the data prospectively over a six-year time period. The team found that those who watched the most TV were up to 40 percent more likely to be insufficiently active. Those same people were the most likely to eat too many salty snacks, sweets and sweetened drinks, and they ate fewer healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. This work by Couper and the team provides strong evidence that too much television often goes hand-in-hand with poor diet, playing a significant role in the burgeoning obesity epidemic.
Eating too much during pregnancy impairs fetal brain development
Nutrition assistant professor Mihai Niculescu, MD, PhD, has found that mouse mothers fed high-fat diets before and during pregnancy had offspring with an under-developed hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and emotion.
Working at UNC’s Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, NC, Niculescu and his team used highly sophistic
ated procedures to examine the epigenetic effects of diet on brain development. The techniques allow researchers to look at how non-genetic factors, like diet, cause genes to express themselves differently, changes that can cause developmental problems in the offspring. Using a technique called methylation profiling, Niculescu also discovered that maternal high-fat diets may affect the expression of genes within the whole brain of the fetuses, raising the question whether other brain areas may be functionally altered as well. These findings, part of which are published in the November 2009 issue of the International Journal of Developmental Medicine, are among the first to show a link between diet and brain growth and development at the epigenetic level, findings that have important implications for human health.
A community approach to weight loss
In the U.S., low-income women are the most likely to be overweight or obese. The extra weight increases their risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. Nutrition research assistant professor Carmen Samuel-Hodge, PhD, works with churches and other community groups to help develop interventions tailored for low-income women that will help them lose weight, manage their diabetes, and lower their risk for cardiovascular disease. Interventions based on behavior modification have shown tremendous promise within clinical settings. Samuel-Hodge is pioneering the effort to move these interventions out of the clinic and into real life settings within diverse groups of people. One example is Samuel-Hodge’s diabetes self-management program, called A New DAWN. This intervention was the first church-based randomized controlled trial among people with type 2 diabetes. Now, she is working with 240 low-income women throughout North Carolina who are overweight or obese. Her findings will help government and other public health providers make better-informed decisions about health-care delivery, resource allocation, and workforce preparation needed to reduce obesity in low-income women.