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NIH launches program to develop innovative approaches to combat obesity

The National Institutes of Health is launching a $37 million program that will use findings from basic research on human behavior to develop more effective interventions to reduce obesity. The program, Translating Basic Behavioral and Social Science Discoveries into Interventions to Reduce Obesity, will fund interdisciplinary teams of researchers at seven research sites. Investigators will conduct experimental research, formative research to increase understanding of populations being studied, small studies known as proof of concept trials, and pilot and feasibility studies to identify promising new avenues for encouraging behaviors that prevent or treat obesity.

The program is led by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), in partnership with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR).

"Obesity is a significant public health challenge raising an individual's risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, certain cancers, osteoarthritis, and other conditions," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "These grants are intended to develop new and innovative ways to tackle this important problem. This approach differs from previous large clinical trials of behavioral interventions to reduce obesity by placing new emphasis on applying findings from basic behavioral and social sciences to improve behavioral strategies."

The program's studies focus on diverse populations at high risk of being overweight or obese, including Latino and African-American adults, African-American adolescents, low-income populations, pregnant women, and women in the menopausal transition. The interventions being developed include creative new approaches to promote awareness of specific eating behaviors, decrease the desire for high-calorie foods, reduce stress-related eating, increase motivation to adhere to weight loss strategies, engage an individual's social networks and communities to encourage physical activity, and improve sleep patterns. Brain scans will also be used to understand brain mechanisms in obesity that might guide the development of new interventions.

The research projects, principal investigators, study sites, and the NIH sponsors include:

  • SCALE: Small Changes and Lasting Effects, Mary E. Charlson, M.D., Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York City, sponsored by the NHLBI.
    This project will develop and refine a mindful eating intervention aimed at producing small, sustainable changes in eating behavior in overweight or obese African-American and Latino adults with a goal of achieving at least a 7 percent weight reduction in each participant.

  • Translating Habituation Research to Interventions for Pediatric Obesity, Leonard H. Epstein, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, sponsored by the NIDDK.
    This project will translate basic research on the reduced response to food after repeated exposure over time to identify and test strategies for reducing the intake of high-calorie foods while increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables that children consume.

  • Interventionist Procedures for Adherence to Weight Loss Recommendations in Black Adolescents, Sylvie Naar-King, Ph.D. and Kai-Lin Catherine Jen, Ph.D., Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich., sponsored by the NHLBI, co-funded by the NICHD.
    This project will develop and refine a home and community-based intervention using findings from basic behavioral research on human motivation to improve adherence to weight loss strategies in African-American adolescents.

  • Developing an Intervention to Prevent Visceral Fat in Premenopausal Women, Lynda H. Powell, M.Ed., Ph.D., Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, sponsored by the NHLBI.
    This project will develop a multi-level intervention targeting the individual, her social network, and the community to increase physical activity and reduce chronic stress and depression in order to reduce unhealthy patterns of weight gain in women in the menopausal transition. This project focuses on reducing visceral fat because this is the type of fat most strongly correlated with health risks.

  • Increasing Sleep Duration: A Novel Approach to Weight Control, Rena R. Wing, Ph.D., Miriam Hospital, Providence, R.I., sponsored by the NCI.
    This project will translate basic research on sleep duration into a unique method to reduce obesity and obesity-related conditions in young and middle-aged overweight or obese adults.

  • Novel Interventions to Reduce Stress-induced Non-homeostatic Eating, Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., Barbara A. Laraia, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D. and, Nancy E. Adler, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco, sponsored by the NHLBI.
    This project will develop intervention strategies to reduce stress-induced eating in lower-income pregnant women, focusing on the reward and stress response systems that may influence eating behaviors and lead to unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy.

  • Habitual and Neurocognitive Processes in Adolescent Obesity Prevention, Kim Daniel Reynolds, Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University, Calif., sponsored by the NHLBI, co-funded by the NICHD.
    This project will develop intervention strategies to improve nutrition behaviors in adolescents based on basic behavioral research on the formation of habits, self-regulation of eating behaviors, and the influence of neurocognitive processes on dietary behavior.


Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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