Nutrition and Wellness Research Center May symposium to address origins of obesity

AMES, Iowa -- The nation's pediatric obesity epidemic has become such a health concern that last year First Lady Michelle Obama launched "Let's Move!" -- a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation so that children born today will grow up healthier.

But expectant mothers can take preventative measures to combat obesity before their children are born. And that will be the focus of the Iowa State University Nutrition and Wellness Research Center's (NWRC) 2011 symposium, "Origins of Obesity: Maternal, Epigenetic & Lifestyle Factors," May 9-11, at the Gateway Hotel & Conference Center in Ames. The symposium will bring together leading researchers to focus on factors that may play a role in the genesis of obesity, as well as comprehensive and effective intervention and prevention strategies.

"As the title of the symposium suggests, this is looking at the origins of obesity and there's a growing body of evidence showing things related to obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases really may get their start during a woman's pregnancy -- and possibly even before that," said Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, symposium co-chair, who is an ISU assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and pediatric obesity researcher.

The symposium is open to the general public. Medical doctors, nurses, physician's assistants and dietitians may also receive continuing education credit. Details and registration information are available at:, or by contacting Joanne Lasrado-Hollis, NWRC research scientist, at 515-294-9779, or The early registration deadline is Sunday, April 17.

Steven Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health who is a leading researcher on exercise and its health benefits, will deliver the symposium's free, public keynote address on May 9 at 7 p.m. Blair's talk, titled "The Role of Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity," will be followed by a reception.

The 2010-11 Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton Chair in ISU's College of Human Sciences, Blair has done extensive research examining the impact of diet, physical activity and other lifestyle factors on mortality. He is coauthor of the books "Fitness after 50," "Active Living Every Day" and "Physical Activity and Health." He was also the senior scientific editor for the first U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health.

In addition to Blair, the symposium will feature leading prenatal and maternal obesity researchers, including:

Dr. Pathik Wadhwa, professor of psychiatry and human behavior, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and epidemiology; and director of the Health and Disease Research Program at the University of California, Irvine. He will discuss the role of prenatal stress and stress biology on fetal programming of childhood obesity and metabolic dysfunction on May 9 at 1 p.m.

Lisa Chasan-Taber, an associate professor of epidemiology from the School of Public Health & Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She will speak on May 9 at 3:05 p.m. about physical activity and gestational diabetes risk.

Gregory Welk, an associate professor of kinesiology and director of clinical research and community outreach at the NWRC and pediatric obesity researcher. He'll speak on May 10 at 10:10 a.m. about parental influence on shaping home environments and the application of the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Screening Tool he developed with NWRC researcher Michelle Ihmels.

Anna Farmer, an assistant professor from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She will discuss the results of a new study on the early markers of adult obesity on Tuesday at 11:05 a.m. Her talk is sponsored by the International Life Sciences Institute, a nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to improve public health and well-being.

Angela Devlin, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, University of British Columbia. Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She will talk on May 10 at 2:25 p.m. about the influence of maternal diet during pregnancy on gene expression in children.

Christina Campbell, symposium co-chair and the Sandra S. and Roy W. Uelner Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State, symposium co-chair and director of the Blossom Project, an ISU research project designed to provide a greater understanding of how prenatal exercise and improved diet can influence the future health of an expectant mother and her child. She will discuss issues relating to diet and physical activity assessment methodology on May 11 at 9:55 a.m.

"One of the main reasons we decided to bring all these speakers together is we now know that what happens during pregnancy is influential for both mothers and her baby's future health status in preventing chronic disease," Campbell said. "That's really the main focus of the research that I started and now that Lorraine [Lanningham-Foster] and I collaborate on."

The Nutrition and Wellness Research Center at Iowa State University works in partnership with food and health-related industries to enhance human wellness through research and educational activities that explore dietary intake, physical activity and health-related behaviors as they influence disease risk.