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Millennium Gift Helps Further Obesity Study at UC Merced

May 8, 2007

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.