Nutrition and Wellness Research Center symposium to address obesity research

AMES, Iowa -- The United States continues to battle an obesity epidemic, with the majority of Americans now considered "overweight." And according to a study last year -- conducted, in part, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- healthcare costs of obesity in the U.S. have doubled in less than a decade and are now estimated at $147 billion annually.

That's why Iowa State University's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center (NWRC) is sponsoring a symposium next week where ISU researchers and other national leaders will examine methodologies and statistical challenges in obesity and health research. The event will take place Monday and Tuesday, May 17-18, in ISU's Alliant Energy-Lee Liu Auditorium in Howe Hall.

Symposium panelists will discuss challenges and better methods for assessing dietary intake, physical activity, energy expenditure and body composition; employing genomics; and using social and behavioral means for achieving energy balance.

"This year's symposium will cut across a variety of disciplines to focus on methodological and statistical challenges we face in conducting health-related research," said Helen Jensen, an Iowa State professor of economics and chair of the symposium committee. "This challenge includes our collective ability to understand how human behaviors and genomics impact health. We will strive to enhance understanding of important research problems in health and wellness at all levels, to introduce and discuss quantitative research methods applicable to problems in obesity and health research, and to support the development of new, multi-disciplinary collaborations to address emerging issues."

Assessing the complexities of dietary intake

Monday's 8:45 a.m. opening session will focus on methods used to assess dietary intake, and examine why it's so difficult to assess. Suzanne Murphy, a professor and researcher from the University of Hawaii's Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, will join Iowa State's Alicia Carriquiry, a professor of statistics. They'll show reasons for the high variation in measuring day-to-day dietary intake, including under-reporting of food consumption by research subjects, and methods to address these issues. The panelists report that subjects who are overweight or obese are more likely to under-report intakes compared to those whose body mass index is within the normal range.

Charles Matthews, a researcher with the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch -- Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, National Institutes of Health; will join Sarah Nusser, an ISU professor of statistics and director of the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, to lead Monday's 10:30 a.m. panel on new methods for the assessment of physical activity behaviors in population-based research. Greg Welk, an associate professor of kinesiology and director of clinical research and community outreach at the NWRC, will moderate the session.

Jensen and Fred Lorenz, an ISU University Professor of psychology, will moderate Monday's 1 p.m. panel, featuring Tanya Rosenblat and Philip Dixon -- Iowa State economics and statistics professors, respectively. They'll discuss how behavioral economics and analysis of social behaviors can be used to study the obesity epidemic.

Scott Going, a professor of nutritional sciences and physiology at the University of Arizona; and Heike Hofmann, an ISU associate professor of statistics, are the panelists in Monday's 3:15 p.m. session assessing body composition techniques. Moderated by D. Lee Alekel, a professor of food science and human nutrition and NWRC researcher, the panel will explore some of the common research errors made in assessing body composition. The researchers will cite studies demonstrating how some measurement methods and models may not translate across all populations.

How genes influence the age effect

The role genetics plays in obesity will be the focus of Tuesday's 8:45 a.m. session. Ian Lanza, a researcher with department of endocrinology, Mayo Clinic; and Dan Nettleton, an associate professor of statistics at Iowa State, will explore how genes influence the age effect on muscle energy. Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, an ISU assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, will moderate the session.

Additional information on the symposium, including the complete schedule, is available online at:

The symposium is the fourth in a series of annual events that focus on critical wellness-related issues, hosted by the NWRC. Co-sponsors for the event include the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research and the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology. Additional support for the symposium is provided by the ISU Office of Biotechnology, the Plant Sciences Institute, and the Department of Statistics and Statistical Laboratory.