The growing abundance of food and increasingly sedentary lifestyles of the past century have contributed to a global epidemic of obesity that extends from children to the elderly, and presents an escalating medical and socioeconomic burden. Approximately one third of Iowans are obese, and another one third are overweight. The medical costs associated with obesity in Iowa alone are on the order of a billion dollars a year.

Long viewed as a behavioral disorder, there is mounting evidence that obesity involves a complex interaction of environmental, genetic, physiologic, behavioral, community, and economic factors. Providing solutions to the obesity problem, therefore, requires a multidisciplinary engagement in obesity research and education.

Under the direction of Allyn Mark, M.D., professor and Roy J. Carver Chair in Internal Medicine, and Charles Brenner, Ph.D., Roy J. Carver Chair and Head of Biochemistry, the UI Obesity Initiative promotes and coordinates interaction among current and new UI faculty involved in obesity research, education and community outreach.

Ten new faculty members will work with existing faculty in the University of Iowa Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Nursing, and Public Health; the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine; and the University of Iowa Henry B. Tippie College of Business.

The UI Obesity Initiative—which interfaces closely with the UI Genetics Initiative—also plans to form an Iowa Obesity Network (ION) that will connect the UI program, the Iowa State University Nutrition and Wellness Center, and the University of Northern Iowa Youth Fitness and Obesity Institute in a network of Iowa regents universities. ION will interact with the Iowa State Department of Public Health and the Iowa business community.

“One of the most distinctive features of the UI Obesity Initiative will be the network of regent universities working together, with the state, and with the Iowa business community,” says Mark. “The launch of this statewide academic research network coincides with Governor Branstad’s ‘Healthiest State Initiative,’ which places a priority on private-public partnership to promote the health and well-being of Iowans, focusing on obesity.”