The UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) was awarded a $7 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to establish the UAB Obesity Health Disparities Research Center (OHDRC). UAB is one of 12 academic institutions in the U.S. to receive funding through the NIMHD’s Centers of Excellence program which fosters collaborative multidisciplinary research in minority health and health disparities.  Using the state of Alabama as a model, UAB investigators are studying the complex contributors and interactions among biological, behavioral, and social factors related to obesity; how they vary at critical periods during life; and develop interventions to address these contributors.

“This new NIMHD/NIH award allows us to build on the MHRC’s strong foundation, which has been successful for the last 17 years,” said Mona Fouad, MD, MPH, Director, UAB MHRC and principal investigator for the new center. “Under the umbrella of the MHRC, we have studied the pathways to obesity and the differences in health outcomes for members of vulnerable populations. With the creation of this new obesity research center, we are continuing this important work,” she added. This award allows the UAB MHRC to expand its impactful obesity-related research, education, and community engagement efforts over the next five years. 

The OHDRC has launched two new research projects. One project, led by Sylvie Mrug, PhD, Professor and Interim Chair of the UAB Department of Psychology, will study whether early life stress (before age 20) can change DNA in a way that contributes to obesity and if this changed DNA can be inherited by future generations. Dr. Mrug will also investigate whether there are protective factors that can prevent the biologically-embedded DNA changes from being transmitted to children.   

The second project, under the leadership of Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, PhD and Gareth Dutton, PhD, Associate Professors in Preventive Medicine, is testing the effectiveness of delivering obesity prevention as part of a federally-funded home visitation program for low-income mothers and their young children.  The study will examine whether a simple targeted in-home intervention, focused on developing good habits – can improve weight outcomes and obesity risk among mothers and children.     

Joining Dr. Fouad as co-principal investigators are UAB colleagues Tim Garvey, MD, Professor of Medicine, Chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, and Senior Scientist, Nutrition Obesity Research Center and Isabel Scarinci, PhD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, Associate Director for Faculty Development and Education, Division of Preventive Medicine.

OHDRC website