Millennium Gift Helps Further Obesity Study at UC Merced

Experts say poor eating habits and inactivity, the main causes of obesity, could mean children face shorter life expectancies than their parents. The increasing problem of childhood obesity in the San Joaquin Valley has prompted a $5,000 gift from Millennium SportsClub to the University of California, Merced, to help fund a study by Professor Rudy Ortiz in the School of Natural Sciences.

";The Millennium SportsClub mission is to develop programs and services for our members and community that enhance bodies, renew minds and nurture bodies,"; said Millennium SportsClub Vice President and General Manager Peggy Hollister. ";We are very passionate about helping our community battle obesity and realize that we need to start by educating parents and children.";

Now in its early stages, the Merced County Child and Adolescent Nutrition and Health Study proposes to survey the health and nutritional behaviors of children and adolescents ages 8-18 in Merced County. Ortiz is conducting the study in collaboration with Dr. Srikanth Sundararajan, assistant clinical professor of medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco – Fresno.

Ortiz said the study will analyze multiple risk factors to evaluate overall health and help predict metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes in children.

Ortiz said prevention is the key.

";We are hoping to develop a suite of parameters we can use to predict the manifestation of metabolic disorders before they become too complicated,"; Ortiz said. ";It is much easier to work with children and issues of prevention proactively before they become overweight or obese. Once children begin having issues with their weight, there will very likely be related complications associated that compound the issue, making it that much more difficult to address.

Overweight children face greater risk of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, asthma and sleep apnea than do their non-overweight peers. They can also experience psychosocial problems such as social stigma, discrimination and low self-esteem.

UC Merced sophomores Jana Mowrer and Ruben Rodriguez, who are supported through a Great Valley Center Fellowship, recently began performing health surveys at four local high schools: Merced High School, Golden Valley High School, Buhach High School and Atwater High School. The study will eventually be extended to include Livingston High School, and pending school district approval, elementary schools in Merced County.

Students are asked take a nutritional and behavioral health survey and to have height, weight, waist circumference and blood-pressure measurements taken.

";I want to create awareness and teach people in the community about such issues as diabetes, obesity, and the silent killer, hypertension,"; Mowrer said. ";This research will give me hands-on experience with these issues as well as the opportunity to collaborate with people in the community.";

Teachers will also be asked to consent to a nutritional and behavioral health survey to evaluate their involvement in promoting good health and lifestyle choices.

";Because of the diversity of school-aged children in Merced County, the study will also identify risk factors that are associated with certain ethnic groups,"; Ortiz said. ";A number of cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors present in obese children and adults have been identified, but not all have been characterized for Hispanic or Hmong populations, which are predominant in the San Joaquin Valley and have been poorly studied on a national scale.";

";This study will provide valuable information about our local demographics and the best way to help our population develop active lifestyles,"; Hollister said. ";We are honored to donate to UC Merced to position ourselves in our community as a leader in fighting childhood and adult obesity.";

Ortiz is looking for future funding sources to expand the program to include more diagnostic examinations, including taking blood samples to evaluate a number of risk factors such as elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, C-reactive protein and insulin. He also envisions securing funding to support intervention programs.

";Our goal is to use the data to help guide regional legislation aimed at establishing good nutrition and health policies for San Joaquin Valley residents in an effort to promote awareness, intervention and environmental change as recommended for national remedies to the increasing obesity epidemic,"; said Ortiz.

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