Ottawa Offers $3M for Childhood-Obesity Research

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Written By: Tom Spears

MONDAY, November 15th, 2010 ( — For generations, stopping childhood obesity seemed so simple: Shoo them outside to play. Don’t feed them junk.

Now, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkak has announced $3 million in medical research funding aimed mostly at solving mysteries of childhood obesity that she and her advisers say remain unanswered.

“Investing in research is key in designing programs that are most effective, and better programs of course will result in better outcomes,” Aglukkak said, adding that the new research “will help in developing programs and services to combat childhood obesity and the impacts those have on children.”

The money will support nine different projects by researchers in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

One study will examine how body fat accumulates in newborns of Indian ancestry in Canada, while another looks at how blood is stored momentarily in the aorta before it is distributed to vital organs in the body, and how exercise affects this capacity.

Aglukkak suggested that the funding was needed because modern medicine doesn’t understand the link between activity and weight well enough.

Dr. Nicole Letourneau, from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, agreed that children’s obesity isn’t well understood.

“Certainly we don’t have the answers to how to address childhood obesity yet,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that we don’t know . . . If it was as simple as (measuring) calories in and calories out, the problem would be solved.

“We have some ideas and we need to know more, so . . . we can have the most effective programs and policies in place to support the health of the Canadian population.”

For instance, Letourneau said infants may have “epigenetic experiences” during their development — referring to changes in how genes act, rather than changes to the genes themselves — in addition to other new factors that research is just beginning to discover.

Still, she acknowledged that much of the obesity problem is that children today are more sedentary than they have ever been before.

Other projects to be funded include:

– Studying the effects of different exercise programs on overweight youth who risk developing diabetes.

– Studying the experience of disabled people making the transition from rehabilitation to community fitness programs.

– Studying the combined benefits of nutrition and exercise for breast cancer patients undergoing treatment.

Apart from the focus on childhood obesity, smaller amounts of funding went to studies on stroke, breast cancer and lung disease.