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NIDDK Establishes New Office of Obesity Research

NIDDK is establishing an Office of Obesity Research to encourage a multidisciplinary approach to obesity research and to coordinate all obesity-related research within NIDDK.

"We are increasingly concerned about the health burden overweight and obesity place on American citizens," said institute director Dr. Allen Spiegel. "Obesity creates high risk for many major diseases NIH research is exploring and trying to prevent. This new office will help us better respond to obesity research opportunities, which are the first line of prevention for many of our most serious disorders."

In the United States, adult obesity has doubled since 1970; in addition, the number of overweight American children and adolescents has tripled in the same time period. African American, Hispanic and Native American women are among those at highest risk for obesity and its related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. This epidemic is a national health crisis that is increasingly recognized by both health professionals and the lay public.

Obesity is also a multi-faceted research problem, requiring knowledge not only of the biological mechanisms of cell and organ dysfunction, but also understanding of human behavior and how people come to shed destructive behaviors in favor of healthy ones.

Both NIDDK's Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition (DDN) and the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases (DEM) support a wide range of studies, from basic research focused on understanding brain mechanisms underlying appetite through clinical research studies designed to modify the environment to prevent obesity. Understanding and changing behavior is the foundation of obesity prevention and treatment, according to Dr. Philip Smith, deputy director of DEM.

Smith and Dr. Susan Yanovski of the DDN will co-direct the new office and coordinate the work of more than 11 programs with major obesity-related components. These range from basic research on the metabolic effects of obesity to major clinical trials such as Look AHEAD, a study of the health effects of weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes, and the Diabetes Prevention Program.

The office will carry out much of its work through the NIDDK obesity research working group, which provides a forum for sharing and coordination of trans-NIDDK and trans-NIH obesity research activities. In addition to representatives from DEM and DDN, the working group includes staff from the NIDDK Review Branch, the Office of Scientific Program and Policy Analysis and the Division of Nutrition Research Coordination.

Established in 2002, the working group is an advisory body assisting the NIDDK director in identifying research opportunities, initiatives and advances; planning appropriate workshops and conferences; and helping to prepare obesity-related reports.

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