Background of childhood obesity and why it's important:
- Nearly one out of three - of North Carolina children between ages 10 and 17 are considered overweight or obese
- One in five of U.S. Children and adolescents are obese, not just overweight —tripling the obesity rate from just one generation ago (Center for Disease Control).
- Less than half of U.S. children over the age of 9 get the recommended amount of exercise
- Overweight and obese children are 5 TIMES more likely to become overweight or obese adults
- Health consequences related to childhood obesity include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, diabetes, issues with breathing, joint problems, liver disease and depression.
- Children who are overweight or obese are 3-6 times more likely to be bullied than their peers who are not overweight.
What can we do about this? We have a mission!
Mission: In order to stem the tide of the obesity epidemic affecting a third of American children and adolescents, we want to create a world where children can grow up healthy, leading their lives without the health and stigma burdens of obesity.
The obesity research program is housed in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, within the Department of Pediatrics in UNC's School of Medicine, and partners with North Carolina Children's Hospital. The program echoes the mission of the North Carolina Children's Hospital, which is a four-tiered mission to CARE: provide care to patients and their familiars, advocate for important child health initiatives, conduct research and make clinical advances, and educate physicians.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a strong reputation as one of the top public research universities in the country, and the Department of Pediatrics has built a widely respected and internationally known research group investigating childhood obesity. Our group has also collaborated with faculty across the university coming together to focus on pediatric obesity. Together, we can make research advancements to help us prevent the epidemic affecting our children.
Current and Future Research
We have dozens of grants, projects, publications, and press releases on our research. We research ways to prevent obesity before children are born all the way through young adulthood. We work on things as scientific as whether the flu shot works as well to build immunity in children who are overweight to things as societal as whether children have similar stigma about obesity as they do about race. We have a big study of over 850 infants where we have been working to prevent obesity before it's a health problem. And we have another study looking at whether children's movies influence the ways children eat.
Our overall research goals and long-term aims, which guide our activities, include the following:
- Identify the best interventions and counseling practices that can be used by healthcare providers to prevent and treat childhood obesity
- Identify what physical, mental, social, and economic factors play the biggest role in putting children at risk for obesity
- Understand the relationship between stigma and childhood obesity
- Determine appropriate and culturally-sensitive obesity treatments without prompting unhealthy restriction of food
- Enhance youth participation in various types of physical activity and athletics to promote lifelong healthy lifestyles and behaviors
- "Immunize" children against the an environment that encourages behaviors linked to weight gain and obesity
- Develop curriculum to be used in schools and other community settings to educate learners at all levels about obesity, its effects, stigma, and healthy lifestyles
Through a variety of channels, the program will publicize our research and findings to the scientific community, healthcare providers, and the public. Spreading the word about our work will drive this national conversation on the treatment and prevention of obesity.
Our group has been very successful with federal funding and we expect that track record to continue or improve. However, federal funding for the creative, forward-looking research our group does is rarely available without early data. Philanthropy is crucial to continue the efforts made in research. The generous spirit of individuals, businesses, and foundations in our communities, working together with a common goal – commitment to children – helps us as we work toward achieving our mission. Support to the research program in the form of corporate, foundation, and private donations provide tremendous resources for the center and will enable us to be a national leader in innovative, big-picture obesity research.
The obesity program team is comprised of faculty and staff from UNC-CH, mainly the Department of Pediatrics, led by Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH. Dr. Perrin is a pediatrician, tenured Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Director of the Office of Research Development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). She is a nationally-recognized leader in patient-oriented preventive care, pediatric obesity, and health services research, and was awarded the American Academy of Pediatrics Special Achievement Award for Distinguished Service and Dedication to the Mission and Goals of the Academy for work on childhood obesity. She also directs a multi-disciplinary Scientific Collaborative for Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Treatment (SCOOPT). She is a board-certified and experienced pediatrician, providing primary care and supervising residents at a safety-net university-based clinic.