Wake Forest University working to help people address obesity

Data pix.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Kristen Beavers is a highly-trained, skilled researcher. But she can talk to you about her research in terms we can all understand.

She is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University, but she looks like the woman you might see at a parent night at your kid’s school – relatable and a lot like you. So, you get the sense that she knows how real life works when she says, “It’s much easier to gain than to lose it and keep it off. Your body acts against you at a certain point and it is hard.”

Before you say, “It doesn’t take a high-level researcher to tell me that,” that’s not what Beavers and her colleagues’ work focuses on. They look for the “whys” and how to solve tricky weight and health problems.

A Wake Forest study and program that has gone a long way toward that is the one they began a few years ago called “WeCan,” an acronym for Weight Loss and Exercise for Communities with Arthritis in North Carolina (the research world is a lot like the military – everything has an acronym).

Kenny Reed was part of WeCan and his health has improved from it.

“Yes, much better, much better,” says Reed, who is about to turn 66. “This is the first time in about 15 to 20 years that I'm starting to feel healthy and the most energy and exertion I've done in the last 20 years.”

But not everyone who is in that age cohort – 65-79 – and loses weight sees improvement in overall body functionality.

“We know, on average, if you have an adult who has some type of functional disability – it could be caused by obesity – and if we get them to lose some weight that on average they are going to improve, but there's a big spread about that average,” Beavers said. “One-fourth of the participants who lost weight didn't see an improvement or maybe even made them worse. So that was kind of the impetus of this project.”

“This project” for Beavers and her team is taking a look at data to see who doesn’t see improvement in functions and why.

“This study is looking at trying to understand the variably and functional response to weight loss in older adults,” she said. “So, by functional response, I mean things like how fast can you walk? How quickly you get out of a chair? How sturdy you are on your feet, those types of things. The variability is real. We see it in this one-size-fits-all style of weight loss like exercise and medication may not be the best fit. I think trying to better understand this variability is going to help us move this needle so that more people are likely to respond favorably in the future.”

See more on what Wake Forest is doing to help people age better in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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