Fighting obesity and its effects on health is the objective of a new institute being formed through a partnership of South Carolina State University’s 1890 Research and Extension Program and the Regional Medical Center.
The Institute for Public Health Research & Outreach will address public health issues that adversely affect communities not only in Orangeburg County and surrounding areas, but throughout the state.
Officials of S.C. State’s 1890 Research Program and the RMC met Thursday afternoon to sign a memorandum of understanding.
“This is a new venture for us. We’ve been working with South Carolina State probably over a year to establish this partnership,” said Brenda Williams, RMC vice president of strategy and compliance.
“The first thing we’re going to target is obesity in our region, but we hope that we’ll be able to leverage our expertise from the hospital’s point of view and the 1890 Program’s point of view … to address other health issues going forward,” she added.
The IPHRO will combine university faculty researchers and RMC physicians who will investigate approaches to targeting obesity and obesity-related illnesses in three separate project areas including: the relationship between achievement motivation and appetite control in weight loss; DNA modification in diabetics and obese persons; and the effects of lifestyle intervention methods on obese pregnant women and their newborns.
“Health and wellness is one of our major research focuses on campus, and we have projects dedicated to that already,” said Dr. Louis Whitesides, administrator of S.C. State’s 1890 Research Program. “We’re pairing faculty members who are engaging in health and wellness research with physicians from the hospital, and they will be conducting joint research projects to try to make a dent in this obesity epidemic.”
In a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Carolina ranked eighth in the nation among states with the highest obesity rates.
The CDC also reports that nearly 40 percent of people who live in Orangeburg and surrounding areas are considered obese.
“We’re looking to have upwards of about 100 people participating in all three projects combined,” Whitesides said. “Calls for participation in the research (are) coming up in the next 30 to 60 days.”
Williams said the IPHRO is being funded by $378,000 from the university’s 1980 Research and Extension Program and another $78,000 from the RMC.
Whitesides said the university’s 1890 Program awards grant money to fund research projects on a regular basis.
“We have goals and objectives, and that’s what our funding is for. We’re targeting health and wellness, and obesity is the first thing up. As we continue to grow, the institute will branch out to include other diseases and health issues. We don’t have a research hospital, so we think it’s a unique model which we’ll see real returns from,” he said of the IPHRO.
The IPHRO’s outreach component will be facilitated by a certified nutritionist and a certified exercise physiologist and include programs such as weight loss and obesity treatment, healthy chef cooking classes and obese youth fitness programs.
“We’re looking for an exercise physiologist to work with research projects and conduct outreach programs, and a certified nutritionist. The outreach programs are already in motion,” Whitesides said, noting the 1890 Research Program already conducts nutrition and other classes, with the hospital also engaged in health education efforts.
“By combining our efforts, it will strengthen both programs. Through this partnership, we will be able to bring in other resources to bear on this program. … One of the major things with obesity has to do with lifestyle,” Williams said.
Whitesides said while an actual building for the Institute for Public Health Research and Outreach is not on the immediate horizon, “we’re committing resources to it.”
In the meantime, he said, “We have research labs, and then the hospital is also letting us use their HealthPlex facilities and their Education Center. All those will be part of the facilities. It is more like a virtual center, and we can actually use those facilities to our advantage.”
Whitesides said DNA modification in diabetics and the obese is a field that faculty researchers have already delved into and have given presentations on at the National Institutes of Health.
“We have found that as you begin to develop diabetes, your DNA is modified, and we find where the modification actually starts. A test is being worked on right now where when you give blood, urine or a tissue sample, they will be able to test for modifications in your DNA before you contract diabetes,” he said. “Intervention can then take place.”
Monitoring the effects of lifestyle changes among obese pregnant women is also crucial, particularly since spina bifida and other diseases may be passed on to newborns of obese moms, Whitesides said.
“About 35 percent of all pregnancies in the Orangeburg area are from obese mothers. The study will follow the obese pregnant women throughout their pregnancy and follow the newborn up until they’re a year old. We believe that if we start intervention during pregnancy, newborns will be healthier,” he said.
RMC President Tom Dandridge said controlling rising health care costs will involve creating partnerships in the public health arena, which includes universities.
“This is really the future of health care. Things like public health and public responsibility take on a much bigger role than they have in the past. I come from a service provider, where we wait for people to get sick and treat them. That’s an expensive way to provide health care,” Dandridge said. “The best way to do it is avoid disease, or at least ameliorate the symptoms.
“Obesity is a great place to start.”
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