Questions and Answers
What is the purpose of the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity
Research to encourage new scientific investigations to combat the obesity epidemic.
The strategic plan will serve as a guide to accelerate progress in obesity research,
from basic discovery to the development of more effective prevention and treatment
strategies, to the integration of these strategies into clinical practice and community
settings. Published in 2011, the new strategic plan reflects the exciting opportunities
that have emerged since the NIH published the first strategic plan for research
on this major public health challenge.
What are the goals of the plan?
NIH-funded research will continue building on emerging discoveries to develop new
approaches and provide a sound evidence base for what works to reduce obesity, so
that people can look forward to healthier and more fulfilling lives.
The efforts of many individuals and institutions are essential to reducing the prevalence
of obesity including government, businesses, community organizations, healthcare
professionals, schools, and families. Research can provide the foundation for these
efforts. As the country's medical research agency, the NIH funds a spectrum of research
to reduce the prevalence and burden of obesity.
Research can lead to a better understanding of the causes and consequences of obesity
and will give us the evidence for what works to prevent and treat obesity. In addition,
research will help us reduce health disparities and inform policies.
Researchers seek to answer many questions, for example:
We hope that the plan will serve as a guide to accelerate progress in obesity research,
and that this research will ultimately help extend healthy life and reduce the burdens
of illness and disability.
- How can we increase and use our knowledge of human biology and behavior to develop
new and more effective prevention and treatment approaches?
- What aspects of our community environments and daily lives contribute to unhealthy
eating and insufficient physical activityand what can we change to make it easier
for people to achieve a healthy weight?
- How can we rigorously evaluate interventionswhether based on individual lifestyle
changes, pharmacological or surgical approaches, community-based programs, policy
changes, or other environmental changesto determine which really work?
- How do we scale up the approaches that show promise and expand those proven effective,
in order to reach more people?
- Given that no single intervention will solve this complex problem, how can we continue
to develop new and innovative approaches?
How was the strategic plan developed?
The NIH Obesity Research Task Force developed the plan with crucial input from scientists
outside the NIH, professional scientific and other health-focused associations,
and the public, by asking for comments on an initial draft and revised draft on
the NIH website. The individuals and organizations that provided input represent
a broad range of expertise and areas of interest. Research advances and opportunities
published in the scientific literature and presented at NIH workshops and national
meetings also helped shape the strategic plan and will continue to inform NIH research
Why create a strategic plan for obesity research?
The NIH Obesity Research Task Force is co-chaired by Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, director
of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; Dr. Susan
B. Shurin, acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and
Dr. Alan E. Guttmacher, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development. These three institutes, along with the National
Cancer Institute, led in the plans development, and over 20 other NIH institutes,
centers, and offices contributed as members of the Task Force.
More than one-third of American adults and nearly 17 percent of children are now
obese. Obesity increases a persons chance of developing many health problems, including
type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, respiratory
problems (e.g., asthma and sleep apnea), and some cancers. Obesity adversely affects
people's quality of life and exacts a substantial economic toll on the nation from
healthcare costs and lost productivity. In 2008, obesity-related medical costs were
an estimated $147 billion.
What are the main research areas emphasized in the plan?
Obesity arises from a complex interplay of forces and affects some populations disproportionately.
We need to take a multifaceted approach to combat it. Simply telling people to "eat
less and exercise more" is not enough.
Research is the foundation for finding viable solutions. Research allows us to explore
the roles that genetics and biology, our environment, and our lifestyles play in
obesity and to transform that knowledge into better prevention and treatment strategies.
Through research, we rigorously evaluate interventions to see which ones really
work and who can benefit most.
The strategic plan is framed around six overarching research areas, or themes:
Furthermore, research to identify and reduce health disparities is essential to
all themes described in the strategic plan.
- Discovering key processes that regulate body weight and influence behavior
- Understanding the factors that contribute to obesity and the consequences of obesity
- Designing and testing new approaches for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Evaluating promising strategies for obesity prevention and treatment in real-world
settings and diverse populations
- Using technology to advance obesity research and improve healthcare delivery
- Facilitating the integration of research results into communities and clinical practice
Is there funding tied to the strategic plan? How can scientists apply to the
NIH for funding for obesity-related research?
Though there is no funding directly tied to the plan, NIH funds research to better
understand the causes and consequences of obesity and to develop and test new prevention
and treatment strategies, an investment of $824 million in fiscal year 2010, plus
awards totaling $147 million made in the same year through the Recovery Act. Information
on funding opportunities, including lists of NIH obesity-related research solicitations,
is available at http://obesityresearch.nih.gov/funding/funding.htm.
What have we learned from research since the first Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity
Research was released in 2004?
The strategic plan identifies and encourages a broad range of research opportunities
and priorities to accelerate obesity research.
Researchers can obtain information about applying for NIH funding, and about the
peer review system through which applications are evaluated, on the NIH website:
NIH publishes Funding Opportunity Announcements to solicit research on topics specific
to many diseases and conditions, including obesity. Additionally, researchers are
invited to submit applications independent of these topic-specific solicitations.
Complete listings of all NIH research solicitations are at
Grant applications that fall within the areas covered in the strategic plan are
considered under the same review processes as other NIH research applications.
Just a few examples of research advances and current directions include:
Who can be involved in implementing the strategic plan?
- Effective lifestyle interventions for weight loss reduce risk for heart disease
and type 2 diabetes. Now, NIH-funded studies are testing ways to bring these proven
strategies to more people and in real-world settings.
- When a woman with obesity becomes pregnant, her childs risk of developing obesity
may increase, suggesting a critical period to intervene. Now, researchers can study
approaches to help women achieve a healthy weight before and during pregnancy.
- Many genes and other aspects of our biology from body fat to the gastrointestinal
system and brain influence whether were likely to become obese. Now, researchers
are delving deeper into these pathways and how theyre affected by our environment.
Advancing the progress of obesity research requires a strong pool of researchers
with diverse areas of expertise who are dedicated to understanding and ameliorating
obesity and its many adverse outcomes.
How can people act on the plan?
But researchers alone can't solve the obesity problem. We need the commitment of
policymakers, healthcare practitioners, businesses, communities, families, and individuals
to partner in research and implement what we learn. The NIH works with groups across
the country and around the world including universities, medical centers, businesses,
schools, and communities to study obesity, develop and evaluate strategies for
prevention and treatment, train researchers, and teach people about science-based
interventions to improve their health.
Everyone can play a role in enhancing obesity research and moving research results
to longer and healthier lives. For example:
What else does the NIH do to address obesity?
- Researchers can submit obesity-related grant applications that align with the areas
of opportunity highlighted in the plan.
- When taking actions to reduce obesity such as adding sidewalks or playgrounds
to increase opportunities for physical activity or improving access to fresh, healthy
foods -- policymakers, community organizations, and others can participate in research
to evaluate these efforts, to determine what is working, and how successful approaches
could be expanded.
- The public can participate in clinical research studies to help inform the science
of obesity helping scientists to identify contributing factors and evaluate new
prevention and treatment strategies.
To maximize the impact of research, the NIH engages in efforts to apply research
findings in practice to improve public health. As research opportunities lead to
effective interventions for prevention and treatment, the NIH can serve a critical
role in helping ensure that these advances reach the appropriate audiences to promote
their rapid implementation. Such efforts often depend on the involvement and dedication
of community leaders, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the general public.
Where can I find out more?
- Population-based strategies that include national education programs have been an
important approach to engage numerous partners and organizations around a common
message and evidence-based strategies. The NIH education program to reduce childhood
obesity called We Can!® (Ways to Enhance Childrens Activity & Nutrition) provides
flexible resources and strategies that can be implemented in diverse settings to
help families, schools, communities, organizations, and national partners and corporations
in their efforts to help children maintain a healthy weight. We Can!® has an extensive
website at http://wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov.
- The NIH develops evidence-based clinical guidelines for overweight and obesity as
a way to translate the science into practical recommendations for clinical care.
Currently, the NIH Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment
of Overweight and Obesity in Adults are being updated using a rigorous evidence-based
approach that involves a systematic review of the literature. Upon the release of
the guidelines, the NIH will share tools and resources with key national and international
audiences through Web-based communities of practice, in which clinicians in primary
care or patients themselves can also share ideas and strategies. (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/ob_home.htm)
- The uptake and dissemination of research advances have been accelerated by collaboration
among research funders and national organizations. One example of such collaboration
is the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR,
). The NIH has joined with the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
to establish NCCOR in an effort to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and application
of childhood obesity research and to haltand reversethe increase in childhood
To learn more about obesity research at the NIH and to download, read, or request
a copy of the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research or a summary of the plan,
Other resources to help people achieve or maintain a healthy weight are available
- Weight-control Information Network (WIN): provides science-based materials about
healthy eating & physical activity (http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov)
- Aim for A Healthy Weight website: provides science-based information on how to reach
and stay at a healthy weight (http://healthyweight.nhlbi.nih.gov)
- We Can! or Ways to Enhance Childrens Activity & Nutrition: is an NIH program developed
to help children maintain a healthy weight through food choices and physical activity
- National Diabetes Education Program: NIH and CDC work with 200+ partners to reduce
illness and death associated with diabetes (http://www.YourDiabetesinfo.org