Written by Bob Shepard, UAB News

Jose FernandezJosé Fernández, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for Education in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions, has been named the inaugural winner of the Shiriki Kumanyida Diversity Leadership Award from the Obesity Society. The award recognizes an investigator whose research has made a significant difference in the field of obesity disparities.

The prevalence of obesity has significantly increased among the population of the United States over the past 30 years, with nearly one-third of adults now considered obese. Obesity is a known risk factor for many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Significant racial/ethnic disparities continue to exist in the occurrence of obesity.

Fernández joined UAB in August 2001, bringing special expertise in the application of statistical models to detect and disentangle genetic and environmental influences in obesity-related traits. His main research interest is the identification of genes that contribute to racial differences in obesity and diabetes. He uses the genetic admixture approach as a tool to decompose the genetic, social and cultural components underlying racial and ethnic differences in complex traits.

Fernández has been a member of the editorial boards for the International Journal of Obesity and for Ethnicity and Disease. He has been the recipient of the UAB President’s Faculty Diversity Award, the UAB Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring, and the UAB School of Health Professions’ Joseph F Volker Outstanding Faculty Award.

The award is named for Shiriki Kumanyika, Ph.D., professor emeritus of epidemiology in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Kumanyika has an interdisciplinary background and holds advanced degrees in social work, nutrition and public health. Her research focuses on identifying effective strategies to reduce nutrition-related chronic disease risks, with a particular focus on achieving health equity for black Americans.

In 2002, Kumanyika founded and continues to chair the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network (AACORN), a national network that seeks to improve the quantity, quality and effective translation of research on weight issues in African-American communities. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine and is president of the American Public Health Association for 2015.

Fernández will receive the award in November at the Obesity Society Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.