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Robert Gibbs, 23, of Livermore, right, sits with, from left, Kevin Hunt, 18, Nichole Gibbs 22, and Amber Edwards, 16, on his birthday in Livermore, Calif., on Friday, March 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Doug Duran) Robert Gibbs, 23, of Livermore, right, sits with, from left, Kevin Hunt, 18, Nichole Gibbs 22, and Amber Edwards, 16, on his birthday in Livermore, Calif., on Friday, March 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Doug Duran)  

Government spends billions on obesity studies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $830 million funding obesity studies in fiscal year 2011. Between 2008 and 2011, NIH spent over $3.3 billion on obesity research.

Spending on obesity research also overshadows many other areas of research funded by NIH, including research on Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and breast cancer, which received $448 million, $437 million and $715 million in 2011, respectively.

“Obesity is a very is a very significant cause of current illness in our country and becoming more significant all the time,” said Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director.

Because of the rise in obesity, NIH established the Obesity Research Task Force in 2003 and came out with its first Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research in 2004. The plan aims “to serve as a guide to accelerate research that will lessen the personal and public health burdens of obesity” with the help of input of external experts, industry professionals, and health-focused organizations through a public comment period.

It also “encompasses all levels of research, from basic biological and behavioral research through community and population research.”

“The strategic plan is rather sweeping in its set of goals, going all the way from basic science understanding of what are those signals that actually trigger hunger and satiety,” Collins said. “It focuses quite heavily then on interventions. How do you design trials with creative new ideas about how to prevent or treat obesity, and then once you’ve identified possible strategies, how do you develop an approach to find out if they work in the real world.”

More recently, NIH has found a more popular outlet for their research in a new HBO documentary series, “Weight of the Nation.” The series features NIH research on the negative implications of obesity and what actions can be taken to combat it.

Alongside the documentary series there will be “a three-part HBO Family series for kids, 12 short features, a social media campaign, and a nationwide community-based campaign to mobilize action to move the country to a healthier weight,” according to NIH.

Obesity is defined by having a high amount of extra body fat and is calculated using the body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. Someone with a BMI of thirty or more is considered obese.

According to NIH, over one-third of adults and 17 percent of children in the United States are considered obese, based on their BMI.

“The National Institutes of Health is our nation’s investment in biomedical research. We try to understand the causes of disease and the ways to prevent and treat,” Collins explained, adding that NIH “is determined to take the resources that we’ve been given by the taxpayers and learn everything we can about this epidemic in order to turn it around.”

NIH estimates that it will spend $829 million on obesity research in FY 2012 and $827 million in FY 2013.

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