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March 13, 2008

Obesity study to examine geographic, economic disparities

Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW Center for Obesity Research and a professor of epidemiology and adjunct professor of medicine, has received a new $1.5 million grant to study the geographic and economic indicators of obesity. The grant has been awarded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health.

The grant will fund a study looking further at how physical, social, and economic environments influence dietary choices and in turn contribute to disparities in obesity rates. Drewnowski and his colleagues have previously found that people with lower socio-economic status, such as those who live in disadvantaged areas, are more likely to be obese than people with higher socio-economic status. Many researchers now believe that energy-dense foods, such as those with lots of fats and sugars, can contribute to obesity in poor communities because those foods are cheaper overall and more accessible in those communities.

This project will include a telephone survey of about 2,000 adults in King County, Wash., to acquire data on socio-economic status, shopping and eating habits, food spending, obesity, and health. The researchers plan to use detailed geographic data to look at each respondent’s food sources, local food choices and prices, socio-economic status, and other variables. The study will examine further whether a person’s physical and economic access to food sources can predict the energy density of their diet and their risk of obesity.