University of Alabama at Birmingham: New research identifies complex contributors to obesity-related health disparities

In a new supplement to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have identified complex contributors to obesity and obesity-related health disparities and propose strategies for improving the well-being of populations impacted by these disparities.

Obesity increases the risk of health conditions such as hypertension, coronary heart disease and diabetes. Recent findings have also revealed that obesity is a risk factor for hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.

The supplement, “Obesity-Related Health Disparities: Addressing the Complex Contributors,” highlights research findings from investigators and projects supported by the Obesity Health Disparities Research Center. The OHDRC is a National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities-funded Center of Excellence that supports transdisciplinary, multilevel and multidomain research to understand the complex contributors to obesity and obesity-related health disparities. The OHDRC uses the state of Alabama and the Deep South region as a model to study and investigate the biological, behavioral and social factors related to obesity.

The OHDRC applies the NIMHD’s Research Framework to inform the center’s work and research.

“These articles identify strategies to better measure and identify modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for obesity and help us understand the influence and interaction of these factors on obesity and related conditions,” said guest editor Mona N. Fouad, M.D., senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine.

The supplement demonstrates that rigorous and comprehensive methods are needed to account for the multiple and interrelated contributors to obesity, including fundamental social, behavioral and biological factors. Similarly, these research reports show that a complex problem like obesity requires multilevel and multidomain solutions to better address it. Rather, a variety of social determinants and other factors contribute to obesity risk and impact the prevention and treatment of this and related conditions.

“Researchers, clinicians, policymakers and other stakeholders can utilize these articles to inform health care and public policy approaches in a way that improves the overall health and well-being of populations impacted by obesity and obesity-related health disparities,” said Gareth Dutton, Ph.D., endowed professor of diabetes prevention and control in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine.

Contributions to the supplement highlight theoretical approaches to explain social determinants of obesity; protective factors that may mitigate the negative associations between neighborhood disadvantage and health; links between financial well-being, stress and weight gain; and the impact of COVID-19 for individuals with obesity and weight-related comorbidities.

“The impact of this supplement extends beyond continuing research. Ultimately, it allows our teams to share their innovative findings that can improve the overall health and well-being of populations impacted by obesity and obesity-related health disparities,” Fouad said.


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