Dr. Christens to lead study on obesity prevention in the Badger State

Brian Christens talks to student.

Partnership Program launches Obesity Prevention Initiative

Submitted by Lisa Hildebrand, senior public affairs, UW-Health (608) 890-8490

The Wisconsin Partnership Program at UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) has committed more than $8.6 million to address the state’s obesity epidemic. More than two dozen faculty and staff from UW’s School of Human Ecology (SoHE), College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and SMPH will collaborate on the Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Initiative.

Dr. Alexandra Adams of the SMPH Department of Family Medicine will serve as principal investigator for the five-year $7.5 million grant from the Partnership Education and Research Committee (PERC). Dr. Brian Christens of the School of Human Ecology will lead the $1.1 million grant from the Oversight and Advisory Committee (OAC).

SoHE collaborators on the OAC grant are Dr. Maggie Grabow, Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies; Dr. Jennifer Gaddis, Dr. Amy Hilgendorf and Paula Tran Inzeo, MPH, School of Human Ecology; Dr. David Allen, SMPH Department of Pediatrics; and Ron Prince, MS, SMPH Department of Family Medicine.

“Obesity is one of the most complex issues of our time,” said Dr. Adams. “To have a lasting impact, it must be addressed in a meaningful, systematic and coordinated way. Everyone has a role in this, and unless there is a measurable level of success in preventing obesity, the state’s health systems will be overwhelmed.”

The PERC grant will provide the infrastructure for bringing together government entities, communities, researchers, non-profit organizations and businesses. Grant funding also will be used to develop a childhood obesity surveillance system and create statewide messaging that helps residents understand how daily decisions affect their health.

The OAC grant focuses on a community-based model for childhood obesity prevention, initially in Marathon and Menominee counties. Adams and other UW-Madison faculty members have a long history of partnership with the two counties, and they will build on these relationships with community leaders, state and local health department staff members, and other local residents.

Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer and other diseases. According to preliminary data from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, 72 percent of Wisconsin adults are overweight or obese. There is limited information about the weight of children; however, data suggest that 25 percent of Wisconsin high school students and 31 percent of children 2 to 4 years old are overweight or obese (compared to 12 percent and 5 percent, respectively, 50 years ago).

“UW-Madison has the opportunity – if not the responsibility – to take a leading role in the research, treatment and prevention of obesity-related disease,” said Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health. “The Obesity Prevention Initiative brings together UW-Madison faculty and staff members across the full research spectrum to work alongside community members in addressing this complex issue.”

Co-PIs for the PERC grant are Dr. Paul Moberg, Amy Meinen, MS, RD, and Karen Timberlake, JD, of the School of Medicine and Public Health along with Christens. Adams is co-PI for the OAC grant.

Four faculty from the College of Agricultural Sciences (CALS) will serve as collaborators on both grants: Dr. Stephen Ventura, Soil Science; Dr. Dale Schoeller, Nutritional Sciences; Dr. James LaGro, Urban and Regional Planning; and Dr. Sam Dennis, Natural Resources. Four SMPH faculty members also will serve as collaborators on both grants: Dr. Aaron Carrel, Pediatrics; and Dr. Tracy Flood, Dr. Ana Martinez-Donate and Dr. Patrick Remington, Population Health Sciences; along with Amy Korth, MS, RD, of UW-Extension. Other SMPH collaborators on the PERC grant are Dr. Kristen Malecki and Dr. Javier Nieto, Population Health Sciences.

Faculty and staff from three CALS departments will serve as collaborators on the OAC grant: Dr. Beth Olson and Dr. Emily Tomayko, Nutritional Sciences; Dr. Alfonso Morales, Urban and Regional Planning; and Alex Wells, MS, Natural Resources. Other collaborators are Dr. David Allen, SMPH Department of Pediatrics; and Ron Prince, MS, SMPH Department of Family Medicine.


The Wisconsin Partnership Program represents a far-reaching commitment by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to improve the health and well-being of Wisconsin residents through investments in research, education and community-academic partnerships. The Partnership Program was created with funds from the conversion of Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin to a stock insurance corporation. Since 2004, it has awarded 375 community, education and research grants totaling almost $157 million.

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