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KNOXVILLE — Obesity has become such a devastating health problem worldwide that scientists now classify it as an epidemic. Tennesseans should be particularly concerned as the state has the fifth highest obesity rate in the country.

The formation of the University of Tennessee Obesity Research Center, announced today, will provide one place for faculty from many disciplines to collaborate on research efforts.

The co-directors of the center are Naima Moustaid-Moussa, professor of nutrition, and David Bassett, professor of exercise, sport and leisure studies. Funding will come from the UT Office of Research, UT Agricultural Experiment Station, UT Extension and the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

“The UT Obesity Research Center will play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of obesity in the state of Tennessee and assist in informing research and treatment practices all over the United States,” said Bob Rider, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

The center will coordinate research on genetic and environmental factors causing obesity, develop plans for long-term prevention and treatment of obesity and disseminate the research findings to the general public. The center also will provide training for undergraduate and graduate students in obesity research, and faculty will offer seminars on the research.

By pooling the efforts of multidisciplinary researchers, the center organizers hope they can better understand the problem of obesity, a disease with many factors.

“Obesity is a health issue that is increasing in importance and has no simple solution. Today, significant research topics require multidisciplinary, and even multi-institutional, approaches to produce the best results. The members of the research team bring their own expertise, and the combination is a stronger research result,” said Greg Reed, associate vice chancellor for research.

More than 40 faculty members in other academic areas such as animal science, veterinary medicine, plant sciences, psychology, family and consumer sciences, nursing, social work and economics, and researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will share their research with the center.

“Obesity is a complex problem, and we hope to address it from many angles. We will consider the many aspects regarding overweight and obesity, including calorie intake, calorie expenditure, psychological issues, genetics and culture,” said Bassett, who earned his doctorate in physical education at the University of Wisconsin and has been at UT since 1988.

The number of obese people and overweight children is increasing, and government programs to prevent and treat it have had little effect. About one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and that is one of the factors leading the nation’s life expectancy rate to drop below many other industrialized nations.

“The ultimate outcome of the research through the center is to contribute to developing a new understanding of mechanisms of obesity and to developing new dietary and physical activity strategies to combat the obesity epidemic and improve the quality of life,” said Moustaid-Moussa, who earned her doctorate in endocrinology at the University of Paris IV and has been at UT since 1993.


Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179,