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Dr. Rao Awarded NIH Grant to Study Obesity in Adolescent Females

Dr. Uma Rao, Professor and Director of the Center for Behavioral Health Research, has been awarded a 5-year, $3.7M grant by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to study the ethnic influences on stress, energy balance and obesity in adolescents.

Obesity is one of the most serious public health problems in the United States; its prevalence has tripled in the last three decades and is associated with a range of short- and long-term medical and psychosocial problems. Adolescence is a critical period for the development and persistence of obesity, and is associated with changes in diet, physical activity and fitness, fat distribution, and insulin sensitivity.

African-American females have the highest rates of obesity, and the clustered risk factors for coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome are twice that of African-American males. African-Americans experience higher stress levels than Non-Hispanic Whites due to economic and social inequalities.

Dr. Rao’s project will test whether adolescent African-American girls consume more sweet and fatty foods and engage in less physical activity when stressed than adolescent Non-Hispanic White girls, and if stress hormones explain these differences. The project will also test whether the differences in diet, activity, and hormones account for the higher rates of obesity in African-American girls. A better understanding of the mechanisms that link stress to obesity, particularly during adolescence when high rates of obesity, increased stressful experiences, and stronger behavioral and physiological responses to stress emerge, will contribute to new clinical guidelines for reducing obesity and associated medical conditions in African-American females.

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