NIH Launches Program to Develop Innovative Approaches to Combat Obesity
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is launching Translating Basic Behavioral and Social Science Discoveries into Interventions to Reduce Obesity, a $37 million program that will use findings from basic research on human behavior to develop more effective interventions to reduce obesity. The program will fund interdisciplinary teams of researchers at seven research sites in California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Rhode Island.
The program is led by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in partnership with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the National Cancer Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.
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's studies focus on diverse populations at high risk of being overweight or obese. The interventions will 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 a person'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.
Because obesity is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes, developing effective interventions to prevent or treat obesity could help reduce the burden of diabetes and its complications on the public's health.
NIDDK-sponsored Study Tests Ways to Change Children's Eating Behaviors
Among the studies in the NIH program is the NIDDK-sponsored study Translating Habituation Research to Interventions for Pediatric Obesity, which is led by investigator Leonard H. Epstein, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo. This study will translate basic research on the reduced response to food after repeated exposure over time. The study will identify and test strategies for reducing the intake of high-calorie foods while increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables that children consume.
The study is based on the concept of "habituation," the point at which a person no longer is interested or motivated to eat a particular food. Laboratory-based experiments have shown that, compared with non-obese participants, people who are obese are slower to reach that disinterest point, so they continue to eat and consume more calories. Research also has shown that a new food can regenerate interest in eating after habituation occurs.
Epstein and colleagues believe they can adapt these proven behavioral motivation concepts to help children lose interest in nonnutritious foods through habituation, while tempting them with new choices of healthy foods. If the approach changes behavior, it would result in weight loss.
The study is aimed at children ages 8 to 12 who are overweight. During the first year of the grant, researchers will conduct a series of laboratory-based studies to test factors that may influence habituation to entrees and snacks in both the short- and long-term. One of these studies will test the effects of simultaneously reducing the variety of high-calorie, nonnutritious foods while increasing the variety of low-calorie, healthy foods.
In years two and three, researchers will test these approaches with participants in their homes. If the approaches are successful, during years four and five these findings will be translated into interventions pediatricians can use in their practices to treat childhood obesity.
"Childhood obesity is a prevalent problem that tracks over time," says Epstein. "Obese youth are at increased risk of becoming obese adults. We think this research will provide new treatment strategies to interrupt this extremely unhealthy progression."
More information about research projects funded by the NIH can be found by using the Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) Expenditures and Results (RePORTER) tool located at www.projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm. The research described in this article is funded under NIDDK grant number 1U01DK088380–01.
The NIDDK has easy-to-read booklets and fact sheets about diabetes. For more information or to obtain copies, visit www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov.
NIH Publication No. 10-4562
Page last updated: December 5, 2011