Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Complexity of Obesity

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Complexity of Obesity

Article excerpt

As the obesity problem grows, researchers investigate all facets of this condition while also working to make the public aware of the personal and economic toll of being big.

As thousands of brainiac kids from around the globe began descending on the University of Tennessee for a week of Destination ImagiNation's creative problem-solving summer camp, researchers in health and nutrition on the Knoxville campus couldn't help noticing that scarcely any overly plump children were in that bunch of campers.

On average, they were less sedentary than their peers elsewhere. "And leaner lhan the kinds of kids you see going to Wal-Mart, especially in Tennessee, where the obesity rate is extremely high," says Dr. Naima MoustaidMoussa, co-director of UTs inultidisciplinary Obesity Research Center, one of several campuses with obesity projects associated with and partially financed by the National Institutes of Health.

As UT launches an afterschool program modeled after Destination ImagiNation in 17 Tennessee counties, UT researchers are banking on the notion that kids who are engaged in thought, ideas and creativity also will become more mindful of nutrition as a fundamental aspect of their daily well-being. The youths will be assigned tasks similar to those undertaken during Destination ImagiNation, which, for example, had youths constructing houses - using only newspapers and tape - large enough to fit a person inside.

"We want them to look at resources they have to solve complex problems," says Dr. Betty Gréer, a human ecology professor who helps oversee the summer camp and the pilot anti-obesity project targeting Tennessee's youth. ''We're hoping this will make young people more tuned in to eating healthy. When people are more active, their metabolism works better and that hormone that controls hunger is better regulated."

With Americans fatter and more malnourished than ever - almost two-thirds of the population is considered overweight or obese compared with 56 percent in the late 1980s and early '9Us, and people of color and ihe poor are the most obese of all - federal and university researchers and outreach workers from various anti-obesity organizations aim to make the public more mindful about its lood consumption and economic toll of being too big. Some 300,000 deaths per year can be attributed to obesity, and medical costs associated with obesitv are estimated at $!47 billion annually.

First lady Michelle Obama has boon shining a spotlight on childhood obesity and the risks of obese children becoming obese adults, and the health care reform law contains several provisions to fight obesity. For its part, IJT is halfway through a four-year stud\' of childhood obesity and last month began working with youth in 17 I en nessee counties. Tennessee leapt irom iourth place in 2009 to second place this year in a Trust for America's I lenllh-Kobert Wood Johnson Foundation ranking ot states with the fattest people.

Researchers are also busy investigating the numerous nuances associated with obesity - a chronic disease shaded by cla.ss, race, food cultures, nutritional mindsets and household income.

"People with higher incomes can afford health clubs, bicycles, personal trainers, fresh fruits and vegetables and salmon, whereas people who are low-income may live in a food desert where there are lew options tor health)" lood, little exercise equipment, lew gyms," says Dr. David Bassett, the UT obesity center's other codirector. "They may not even feel sate walking the streets of the neighborhood. These are some ot the discussions we have around here, the ideas that we bounce around. Some ot them are proven and some are not. We'd like to believe there are simple answers, but we have to lease apart these questions of race, education and income."

In Those Genes

There are other important variables, including differences in physiology and genetics. Heeding that reality, the body-mass index (BJVlI) - a nondinieal calculation of boil}· tal - lor normally weighted adults of Asian descent was set by the Centers ior Disease Control at 22. …

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