Interdisciplinary approaches to obesity research will examine nutritional, societal, financial and physical causes of the disease and assist in developing practical solutions
September 25th, 2014
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By Fran Webber
COLUMBIA, Mo. – More than 30 percent of American adults and almost 20 percent of American children are obese, according to a 2014 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Now, the new, state-of-the-art MU Nutritional Center for Health (MUNCH) at the University of Missouri will merge expertise in agriculture, medicine, food science, journalism, exercise, dietetics and other disciplines to develop holistic and practical approaches to controlling obesity and diabetes.
“All these disciplines come together because we’re complex individuals, and the landscape of our lives has changed,” said Christopher Hardin, MUNCH director and chair of the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. “It takes an integrative facility that allows a range of research into this complicated issue, and we look forward to taking advantage of these new resources.”
MUNCH resources include a teaching kitchen for presentations about healthy cooking, an observational lab and a metabolic kitchen where researchers can design meals with specific nutritional profiles for experiments. In collaboration with the MU Physical Activity and Wellness (MU PAW) program, researchers are capable of measuring body composition, cognitive function, blood markers and body glucose. Also, MUNCH can go beyond human trials that test diets and food products. For example, the new facility allows for the observation of parents’ interactions with their children during physical activities and developmental tasks.
“MUNCH has paved the way for a lot of new research,” said Heather Leidy, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology. “In the past, we didn’t have kitchen access, we didn’t have a clinical unit, and it was very difficult to do nutrition-related interventions across the board. We study obesity and Type 2 diabetes prevention; being able to conduct nutrition interventions is critical for our research.”
The Center’s researchers are already making significant discoveries. Leidy recently found that eating a protein-rich breakfast leads to increased fullness, less brain activity related to food cravings and reduced evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods. She plans to further her research with the help of the new facility.
The facility is housed in the newly renovated Gwynn Hall on the MU campus. Donors contributed nearly $1 million of the $11 million in funds that went toward creating the Center. The Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology is jointly administered by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences and the MU School of Medicine.