Obesity Research Program

Obesity affects more than one-third of the U.S. population and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. Obesity ranks second only to tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The Division is committed to research that addresses the health challenges posed by the rising prevalence of obesity and in 2006 established the Obesity Research Program directed by Dr. Christina Wee. Our research aims to improve the health and care of patients with and at risk for obesity through the conduct of clinical, health services, and epidemiologic research in obesity and its related health behaviors.

Dr. Wee's research on obesity primarily focuses on questions of particular relevance to public health and primary care and can be characterized by three overarching goals: 1) to understand racial and ethnic differences in the costs and health outcomes of obesity; 2) to identify and address the stigma associated with obesity, particularly as it relates to disparities in healthcare and in medical decision-making; and 3) to define and promote the role of primary care physicians in the management of obesity. She is the PI of two ongoing NIH-funded R01 projects. "Race and Health Outcomes Associated with Obesity," - a study using data from several large nationally-representative samples to examine the interface of age, race, and obesity on outcomes such as mortality, disability, cardiovascular risk, health disparities, and health care cost. Her second project, "Understanding How Patients Value Bariatric Surgery," is a multi-center observational study of over 600 patients planning weight loss surgery and over 300 primary care patients in the community to examine the long-term outcomes of weight loss surgery and the factors that influence outcomes and decision-making around surgery and other weight treatments. In addition, Dr. Wee is engaged in several pilot studies aimed at improving obesity treatment in primary care.

In addition, several other faculty conduct research related to obesity. Dr. Suzanne Bertisch is currently conducting preliminary work examining the physiology of yogic-derived slow breathing and its influence on autonomic cardiovascular control, with plans to implement a pilot study examining slow breathing and yoga as adjunctive therapies for prehypertension/hypertension in patients with obesity. Dr. Suzanne Leveille's work centers on musculoskeletal pain and disability in older populations, patient empowerment interventions, and epidemiologic methods. This work includes studies examining the impact of obesity on musculoskeletal pain and physical functioning with in older populations. Dr. Ken Mukamal is the PI of two NIH projects and has primary research interests in investigating the role of dietary and lifestyle factors on the incidence and prognosis of cardiovascular and neurovascular disease and its risk factors. His work has included studies on the relationship between obesity and nontraditional cardiovascular outcomes. In a cohort of older adults, he and his collaborators have examined whether the consequences of obesity extend into older age, including such outcomes as incident diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and congestive heart failure. He has also studied the association between obesity and suicide risk. Dr. Gloria Yeh, whose research focuses on the efficacy and mechanisms of mind-body exercise for chronic disease, is a co-investigator on a trial investigating the effects of mind-body exercise in obese individuals with cardiovascular risk factors.