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University Communications

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University Communications

Gerhard Glomm
IU Department of Economics

Last modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007

IU taking a broader research approach to fighting the obesity epidemic

Oct. 31, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- According to recent reports, Indiana has one of the highest levels of adult obesity in the nation, with more than 3.7 million Hoosiers considered overweight.

While the issue has received much attention, Indiana University on Nov. 9 will host its first multi-disciplinary conference on obesity. The main purpose of "Obesity: Causes, Consequences and Policy Challenges" is to bring together scholars who have an interest in researching the issues and to look for common ground for working together.


"We hope that this conference will lead to the establishment of an obesity study group at IU," said Gerhard Glomm, its organizer and a professor and chair in the IU Department of Economics. "The goal of this working group is to generate synergies that will result in externally funded multi-disciplinary research on obesity.

"There is very good work done on obesity within the traditional disciplines, but there are definitely possibilities for knowledge and technology transfer," Glomm added. "Since we are economists, we think mostly about economic causes of the epidemic . . . Researchers in other disciplines might come up with different explanations, which may have intricate and subtle interaction effects with the economic causes. These would be discussed during the conference."

Few, if any, university-level multi-disciplinary research groups have been established around the country to study obesity. Glomm said IU is well positioned because of the presence of researchers already at its departments of applied health science, economics and sociology and the IU School of Medicine.

"We certainly have the human resources here, so with proper funding and faculty initiative, Indiana University can become a leader in this area," said Bennett Bertenthal, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "I view this as an opportunity to develop a new initiative to carry out an important research mission."

"From a public health perspective, obesity contributes to death and disability more than any other health risk factor," added Robert M. Goodman, dean and professor of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "It is important to the mission of our school that we partner with other parts of the university like the Department of Economics because complex health risk factors, including obesity, require multidisciplinary approaches if we are going to influence the improvement of the health of Indiana residents."

While research on obesity by health scientists and physicians is apparent, social scientists have also been looking for causes of and solutions for the obesity epidemic. For example, increasing the value of time makes home food preparation and exercise more costly, which in turn leads to fewer meals prepared at home and a more sedentary lifestyle.

"Especially on this issue of obesity, a multi-disciplinary approach may turn out to be fruitful," Glomm said. "Economists, for example, have good reasons to believe that price incentives matter for changes in body weight. Changes in body weight in turn can influence the metabolism, which will influence future weight changes. Studying these changes in metabolism requires the input of medical, biological and nutrition scientists."

In addition to IU faculty presenters, three prominent obesity researchers from other universities will participate at the conference -- Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, John Cawley of Cornell University and Ellen Granberg of Clemson University.

Sessions will include "Free Trade Makes You Fat," "The Economics of Obesity" and "Public Views on the Causes of Obesity." Research will be presented about the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program and other school nutrition initiatives in Indiana.

Organizers also are paying special attention to graduate students who are considering doing dissertation research on obesity and have planned follow-up meetings for them. "Graduate students are the future of research," Glomm said. "Mentoring and training graduate students is of prime importance. This conference can serve as a first step in this endeavor for graduate students who are interested in obesity."

The conference, which will take place in Wylie Hall 005, is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, contact Harriet Kenny at 812-855-0836 or Lunch will be provided. Details about the conference are available at