The Daily Gamecock

Health study seeks cause of weight gain

Coca-Cola funds effort to pinpoint 'energy imblalance'


Gaining weight may be associated with eating too much or not exercising enough at first glance, but the Arnold School of Public Health is conducting a hefty study to determine if other factors, such as metabolism, could also be to blame.

The Energy Balance Study is tracking 200 people over a 13-month period in order to conclude what factors change weight.

“What you always hear in the media is that you’re either eating too much or exercising too little,” said Greg Hand, associate dean for research and practice in exercise science. “But the reality is we don’t really know what the relationship is between those two things that try to maintain balance between energy that you take in and energy expended.”

He said body fat alone isn’t always the culprit behind chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension.

“We’ve been interested in metabolism and body weight for a long time. Energy imbalance can lead to all kinds of diseases that people are getting now,” Hand said. “Body fat is not necessarily the factor that leads to those problems, but certainly metabolic disorders related to energy imbalance affect that.”

Some participants have already gone through dietary assessment training and baseline testing during the first month, which was June. During this stage researchers measured subjects’ body fat, resting metabolic rate, blood pressure and blood chemistry. Later, activity monitors will check physical activity levels, and random phone surveys will call participants to track their diets, said Robin Shook, an exercise science doctoral student working with the study.

Participants will go through quarterly follow-up checks during the next 12 months.

Hand said many of the factors being measured are associated with seasons and can change over time.

“We get all four seasons at the end of the study,“ he said. “They’re going to be able to see how all these factors change in their life over the period of the year.”

The research is funded by a $2.5 million grant from Coca-Cola, which covers equipment, personnel and incentives for participants.

The research staff consists of 24 people divided into three teams. Shook heads the recruitment retention team, Hand manages the measurement team and health sciences professor James Hebert leads data management.

Participants can earn up to $500 in cash, but that’s not the important thing, Hand said.

“Five hundred dollars is great but most people enjoy the information we give them,” Shook said.

At the end of the study, the school will give participants information on their body fat, calories, fitness level and sleep cycles.

So far, most people in the study are 27 or younger, and Hand said they are trying to recruit more older people in order to make the spread even — and to reach 400 subjects in total.

“Four hundred is a relatively large population,” he said. “Most studies have 50 for a good size study. These studies require a lot of people.”

The public health school will be recruiting more people until May 2012.