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Obesity Researchers Come Together at WiPOD Symposium

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On the surface, the path to winning the fight against obesity seems simple. The public has repeatedly heard the mantra: Eat healthier, exercise more.


In truth, solving this public health crisis is much more complex.


One group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is taking a comprehensive, team approach. The Wisconsin Prevention of Obesity and Diabetes (WiPOD) includes members from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, School of Nursing and more. The group addresses not just individual factors that can lead to obesity, but also cultural and environmental issues.


WiPOD held its first Obesity Prevention Research Symposium on March 10 in the Health Sciences Learning Center atrium. The event provided an opportunity for researchers and practitioners across campus to network and share information about their projects.


"By bringing this fairly broad group of different expertise together, that's how we're really going to have a stronger public health voice in the long run," said Aaron Carrel, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and one of the WiPOD's founders. "And I think it's really emblematic of our transformation from a school of medicine to the School of Medicine and Public Health."


Innovative Obesity Prevention Ideas on Display


About 50 posters were on display, illustrating the varied pieces of the puzzle that must come together in the fight against obesity. Topics included agricultural initiatives, environmental studies, exercise programs and medical research. The event also included a lecture by Michael W. Hamm, PhD, a C.S. Mott professor of sustainable agriculture at Michigan State University.


Tiffany Green, PhD, a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar in the Department of Population Health Sciences, presented a poster that examined temporal relationships between pediatric asthma and obesity.


Though Green is a health economist who often is concerned with individual behavior, she knows that a number of environmental factors can contribute to childhood obesity, such as a lack of safe places for children to play or the absence of affordable healthy food.


"So it's not as simple as telling people to go eat right and exercise because people have different constraints, and not considering those constraints is really short-sighted," she said.


The Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW) also was represented. The survey, the first of its kind done on a state level, paints a picture of the health of Wisconsin's residents and can help identify where needs exist.


Corinne Engelman, MSPH, PhD, assistant professor of population health sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and one of the scientists involved in SHOW, said the data can be used in a variety of ways. For example, state officials could use the data to help plan public health programs, or researchers could use the data to identify risk factors.


Wisconsin Can Lead the Way


With displays from many colleges across UW-Madison, the symposium made it clear that preventing obesity and diabetes won't be a solo effort. It will require scientists, educators, physicians and policy makers coming together.


Wisconsin may have an edge in the battle.


"I think with such a large, public, agriculturally based university, and a really strong state department of health, which Wisconsin actually does have, we have some really unique strengths to bring these groups together and hopefully really help to address and combat obesity," Carrel said. "I think if you ask all of us who do research on childhood obesity, I don't think that we think we're going to cure childhood obesity in our doctors' offices."


Learn more about UW Health's Pediatric Fitness program at

Date Published: 03/13/2009

News tag(s):  obesitydiabetesresearchpediatrics

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Obesity Researchers Come Together at WiPOD Symposium

Last updated: 05/05/2009
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