VA research on obesity examines the biological mechanisms of weight gain and weight loss; compares the safety and effectiveness of obesity treatments; and aims to identify strategies to prevent weight gain through exercise and healthy eating. These efforts complement VA's "MOVE!" program, a national weight management and exercise program designed by the VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
Examples of VA Research Advances
Comparing weight-loss methods—A low-carbohydrate diet and the weight-loss drug orlistat were equally effective at helping overweight and obese Veterans shed pounds. But the low-carb diet proved better at lowering blood pressure. The study of 146 men and women, conducted by VA and Duke University Medical Center, lasted nearly a year. Both the low-carb diet group and the orlistat group lost nearly 10 percent of their body weight. But nearly half of low carb dieters were able to stop or decrease their blood pressure medication, while only about 20 percent of those in the orlistat group were able to do so.
No health-care bias—Some overweight or obese patients feel that their health-care providers are biased against them due to their weight, and some clinicians express negative attitudes toward obesity. But obese and overweight patients receive the same quality of health care as normal-weight patients, say Philadelphia VA researchers. Their study looked at two databases of information: one from Medicare beneficiaries (36,122 patients) and one from the VA system (33,550 patients). The study covered eight indicators of quality care, including cancer screenings, vaccinations and diabetes control tests.
Identifying risk in returning Veterans—An ongoing study at the VA Medical Center in West Haven, Conn., is examining patterns of change in body mass index (BMI) in Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Researchers are creating a database to chart BMI changes over several years in a group of Veterans who used VA health care between 2001 and 2007. The study will identify risky periods for weight gain and develop tailored strategies to prevent it.
Gene therapy under study—A team at the Gainesville VA Medical Center and University of Florida found that transferring a gene that triggers the production of a polypeptide (a protein building block) called proopiomelanocortin into two sites in the brains of rats resulted in increased physical activity and fat-burning, and decreased body mass.