PCORI-Funded Research Seeks to Address Weight Problems

by Cathy Gurgol, MS, and Katie Lewis, MPH

Cathy Gurgol

A common New Year’s resolution is to live a healthier life. Eat better, exercise more, and lose weight. January 19–23 is Healthy Weight Week. We mark it by sharing some research that focuses on fighting obesity. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) funds this work.

More than one-third of Americans are affected by obesity. Obesity causes many serious illnesses, some that can lead to death. These illnesses include diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So, finding better ways to treat obesity is important to people and the nation.

Differences in Obesity and Care
Obesity is more common in some groups of people than in others. Groups with the biggest problem include some minorities and people who live far from cities. So PCORI has funded studies to find ways to help these groups.

Katie Lewis

One study is looking at 750 overweight children. The children are 2 to 12 years old and live in disadvantaged communities. The study tested if health coaches could teach the children healthy behaviors. The coaches also told families where they could buy fruits and vegetables and where the children could play. Will the children lose weight?

Another study, is looking at two ways to teach people how much to eat. The study includes 300 overweight, low-income adults. Researchers help one group to count calories. The other group is encouraged to fill up on fruits and vegetables (see choosemyplate.gov). Who will do better?

PCORI also funded two large studies on adult obesity. The adults have low incomes, and most are racial and ethnic minorities. Some live in rural areas. Both studies coach people to eat fewer calories and exercise. The goals of the studies are to help people lose weight and improve their quality of life.

One of these studies will include more than 1,000 patients. They will see health coaches at their doctor’s office, who will try to help them lose weight.

The second large study will treat more than 1,400 patients. It will ask whether obesity treatment works better in some settings than in others. The first setting is a standard medical office. The second is a facility that provides coordinated care by a team of healthcare providers. A third group participates in group phone calls with an obesity specialist.

Using Health Data to Tackle Obesity
Each of these two large studies benefits from one of PCORI’s biggest investments. PCORnet is the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network. PCORnet will help researchers study health care to see what works best for different groups of patients. It uses data collected by doctors and nurses when patients get medical care.

Eleven clinical networks are part of PCORnet. They all collect data on obesity because it is such a big national problem. Because the networks are very large, researchers can see how treatments affect groups of people differently.

One or two studies on obesity may be among the first PCORnet projects. Two topics suggested by patients and others are:

      • Which types of surgery for weight loss work best with least risk?
      • Do antibiotics lead to weight gain in some groups of young children?

Findings from such studies will help patients, doctors, and others decide on treatments. And those decisions will be based on evidence.

Next Steps
PCORI funds research to help answer patients‘ questions about their care. The results of the obesity studies can help people get to healthy weights and improve their lives. We are also looking for the best ways to tell patients and others about new findings.

We are keeping a close eye on the studies as they progress. And we look forward to reporting to you what we find. To learn more about PCORI, please CLICK HERE.

About the Authors:
Lewis is a Program Associate in PCORI’s Addressing Disparities program.

Gurgol is a Program Officer in PCORI’s Addressing Disparities program.



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