Texas Obesity Research Center Gathers Multinational Force to Combat Obesity

NIH Funds Support Collaboration to Investigate Increasing Rates of Physical Inactivity Among Hispanics

The epidemic of obesity is a multicultural challenge, requiring efforts that maneuver the complicated networks of not just one culture, but many.  A $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health will support research between the University of Houston and the Universidad de Guadalajara to establish a multinational strategy to combat physical inactivity—a breeding ground for obesity.

“We will build a scientific, multinational collaboration, identify behavioral and social science research priorities, and develop a long-term collaborative agenda focusing on the problem of physical inactivity and physical activity maintenance across the lifespan of Hispanics, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans,” said Rebecca Lee, associate professor and director of the UH Texas Obesity Research Center (TORC).

Lee is in Mexico as part of a Fulbright Garcia-Robles award.  The project capitalizes on an existing collaboration between UH and Universidad de Guadalajara and unique opportunities present in the city of Houston and state of Texas, home to a sizeable Hispanic population. Guadalajara is similar in population size to Houston and faces many of the same challenges that Houstonians face in meeting physical activity guidelines, such as traffic congestion, long commutes and poor air quality.

 “Based on factors including high rates of immigration, evident cultural impact and strong economic ties, it is clear that health challenges in Mexico directly impact the health of Americans,” Lee said.  “Recent data suggest the obesity problem has emerged in Mexico, affecting youth, particularly.  A contributing factor to this emerging problem is the high rate of physical inactivity.”  

Lee says the scientific collaborations with researchers from around the globe will yield educational models, a white paper and a call to action for funding agencies to prioritize programs dealing with physical inactivity and its relationship to obesity.  She’s hopeful their efforts will benefit the work of fellow researchers and policymakers across borders.

TORC works with the city of Houston and other community partners to promote healthy living.  Lee, through other research with the UH department of health and human performance, which houses the center, has investigated determining factors in neighborhoods that may influence physical activity, how working with support networks encourages healthy habits and how pursuing a fun activity, like salsa dancing, can increase the likelihood of continued exercise.   

 For more information on TORC: http://www.hhp.uh.edu/obesity/ 

For more information on physical inactivity: http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319589.pdf