Over the past 30 years, rates of obesity have increased and remain high for adults and children. More than one-third of U.S. adults and about 17 percent of children are now obese.
Overweight and obesity are highly prevalent in some racial and ethnic minority groups. Rates of obesity in American adults are highest in blacks, followed by Hispanics, then whites.
A person’s sex may also affect the way the body stores fat. Obesity is more prevalent in women than in men, and obesity is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Read more about Women’s Health.
In 2016, NHLBI released its Strategic Vision, which will guide the Institute’s research activities for the coming decade. Many of the objectives and compelling questions identified in the plan focus on obesity, nutrition, and physical activity. For example, researchers will look at ways to assess dietary intake and identify eating patterns and types of foods that contribute to maintaining a healthy weight. That examination may lead to new strategies that help lower risks of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
NHLBI is also committed to advancing research on obesity, nutrition, and physical activity through collaboration across research disciplines and areas of expertise.
NHLBI-funded obesity, nutrition, and physical activity research continues to build on the legacy of contributions to the understanding of the causes, complications, and treatment of overweight and obesity. Our studies focus on a wide range of topics that include the following:
Discovering factors that increase a person’s risk for obesity
Understanding the effects of weight loss on cardiovascular disease risk factors
Understanding the growth patterns of children and how childhood obesity determines future health
Assessing the effectiveness of different strategies designed to help people aim for a healthy weight
Seeing whether strategies to aim for a healthy weight are effective in real-world settings, such as communities, schools, and work sites
Learn about some of the NHLBI’s efforts to support and advance research on obesity, nutrition, and physical activity.
NHLBI’s Division of Intramural Research, including its Laboratory of Obesity and Aging Research, is actively engaged in discovering new insights about obesity, nutrition, and physical activity that can lead to improved health care, practices, and policies to prevent or treat obesity and its health consequences. The Laboratory of Obesity and Metabolic Diseases Lab seeks to understand how obesity induces metabolic disorders.
The NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences supports research on how overweight and obesity relate to heart disease and research on interventions to reduce or maintain body weight and reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors. The Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science supports the translation and implementation of research, including obesity research, into clinical practice. The Division of Lung Diseases and its National Center for Sleep Disorders Research supports research on sleep and sleep disorders, including the interplay between obesity and lifestyle and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
Through NHLBI’s Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program, researchers will use data from studies focused on heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders to better predict, prevent, diagnose, and treat obesity based on a patient’s unique genes, environment, and molecular signatures. Learn more about NHLBI precision medicine activities.
The NHLBI’s Women’s Health Initiative Strong and Healthy Study (WHISH) is a large clinical trial investigating the health benefits of a physical activity program in older women who participate in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) extension study. The recently completed Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health Study (OPACH) used wearable devices to discover characteristics of physical activity important for maintenance of cardiovascular health in older women.
The Primary Care Pediatrics Learning Activity and Nutrition With Families (PLAN) studies the effect of a behavioral weight control intervention in centralized primary care settings for children, their parents, and siblings who are overweight or obese. This trial will provide important information regarding the effectiveness of using a family-based treatment for childhood obesity in primary care settings.
The Childhood Obesity Prevention & Treatment Research (COPTR) Consortium tests interventions that slow weight gain in children. Interventions target home, school, community youth organizations, and primary care settings for children who live in low income and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The goal is to prevent obesity-related cardiovascular disease risk factors in children.
The NHLBI and other NIH Institutes led the Obesity Related Behavioral Intervention Trials (ORBIT) to translate findings from basic research on human behavior into interventions that can change obesity-related health behaviors. These studies included families and a variety of demographic groups. A key finding from one study focuses on the importance of targeting psychological factors in obesity treatment.
The Healthy Communities Study (HCS) explored how characteristics of programs and policies are related to children’s weight, diet, and activity levels in diverse communities across the country. Findings from this study suggest that the amount, kind, and duration of community programs and policies makes a meaningful difference in childhood obesity.
NHLBI-funded population studies are also collecting data on obesity, nutrition, and physical activity. For example, the Framingham Heart Study identified common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease across generations. The Jackson Heart Study investigated the causes of cardiovascular disease in African-Americans to learn how best to prevent these diseases. The Strong Heart Study examined cardiovascular disease and its risk factors among American Indian men and women.
The Accumulating Data to Optimally Predict obesity Treatment (ADOPT) Core Measures Project identified a set of 50 Core Measures, or factors, spanning four domains—behavorial, biological, environmental, and psychosocial—that may influence how people respond to obesity treatments. The ADOPT Project encourages researches to use these Core Measures consistently in new clinical trials to develop targeted and potentially more effective strategies to treat obesity.
The NHLBI has supported evidence-based health education programs to promote healthy lifestyle changes, such as heart-healthy eating and physical activity, to prevent obesity and obesity-related cardiovascular complications. Visit Aim for a Healthy Weight for tools to help you aim for and maintain a healthy weight. Use our We Can!® (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) resources to help children maintain a healthy weight. If you are looking for medical school curricula resources to improve clinical care training, view the NAA Nutrition Curriculum Guide for Training Physicians from our Nutrition Academic Award (NAA) Program.