Once people get the proper advice on how to lose weight, shedding pounds should be a snap, right? Like many scientists and nutritionists, Dale Schoeller used to think so. But 30 years in obesity research has taught him differently.
“When I started out, I thought you just needed to tell people to exercise more and control their diet, things that for me—although I’m not perfect at them—weren’t that difficult,” says Schoeller, who is a CALS professor of nutritional sciences. “But they are very difficult for well over half of our population, two-thirds probably.”
Just as with smoking, there are a host of reasons why people who know they should be eating less simply can’t. Some overindulge for emotional reasons or because they lack knowledge about nutrition, and others simply can’t resist the smorgasbord of processed foods that are available today. Such a complex and multi-pronged problem requires a multi-pronged solution, which is why Schoeller now heads up a university-wide initiative called Wisconsin Prevention of Obesity and Diabetes, or WiPOD. A joint effort of CALS and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, WiPOD is composed of UW-Madison faculty, staff and students who want to reverse the trend toward increasing flab in the Badger State and beyond. Many WiPOD participants already study obesity, including Schoeller, who uses tools such as the Bod Pod—a machine shaped like an oversized egg that measures a person’s body fat—to understand the effects of exercise on metabolism.
But WiPOD also aims to involve researchers from fields as diverse as psychology, engineering, education and land use. “We want to tackle the issue of obesity not just from our viewpoints as individuals, but as teams that can take a wider view,” says Schoeller.
Schoeller hopes the program will lure more scientists and medical practitioners into obesity research and offer them better training. But the ultimate goal is to bring new knowledge about obesity to the public, both by collaborating with community programs and by educating governments about actions they can take to promote healthy lifestyles. “We want to accentuate the positive,” says Schoeller, noting that the growing number of bike lanes and farmers’ markets around cities are steps in the right direction. But as with exercising to lose weight, the key will be keeping up the momentum.