Wake Forest to coordinate national study on effect of weight loss on diabetes

June 25, 2001

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Diabetes has become an epidemic in the United States, largely because of the dramatic increase in the number of Americans who are overweight or obese. Diabetes markedly increases the risk of dying of heart attacks and strokes.

Wake Forest University School of Medicine will be the national coordinating center for a major long-term study looking at the effects of weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes. The study, to be known as Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes), was launched at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association today. It will be the largest study on the effects of weight loss ever funded by the National Institutes of Health, with a budget of more than $180 million. The study will last at least 11½ years.

Participants in Look AHEAD will be assigned at random either to a lifestyle intervention program designed to promote weight loss through reduced intake of calories and regular exercise, or to a diabetes support and education program where participants will attend sessions discussing nutrition and physical activities and meet with other people who have diabetes in support groups.

Sixteen centers will be recruiting about 5,000 volunteers for the study. Wake Forest will not have one of these clinics, but will analyze the data generated by the study. The principal investigators at Wake Forest are Mark A. Espeland, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences (biostatistics), and Lynne E. Wagenknecht, Dr. P.H., associate professor of public health sciences (epidemiology).

"The number of overweight persons in the US is increasing rapidly," said Espeland. "Look AHEAD will help us identify the best strategies for preventing heart disease and the complications of diabetes among these individuals." Wagenknecht said, "The impact of this study will be far-reaching since nearly everyone has been touched by diabetes in some way, either in a friend or family member."

The study is focused on the long-term health effects of losing weight and maintaining that weight loss, especially in people with type 2 diabetes, which used to be known as adult-onset diabetes. "Our primary interest is to reduce the risk of heart disease which occurs at a high rate in persons with diabetes," said Wagenknecht. "The reasons for this high rate are unclear, but since weight loss also reduces cholesterol and blood pressure, weight loss may in turn reduce the risk of heart disease."

The study's participants will be people between 45 and 75 who have type 2 diabetes and who are overweight, which will be categorized using a formula known as the body mass index.(BMI). BMI charts are widely available, such as at http://www.shapeup.org/bodylab/frmst.htm.

People with a BMI over 25 qualify for the study. A 5 foot 4 woman who weighs 150 pounds would qualify, as would a 6 foot man who weighs 190 pounds. More than half of adult Americans are considered overweight, and 22 percent are obese. And more than 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. The goal of the lifestyle program is to lose at least 10 percent of initial weight, and then keep it off.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of NIH is the lead sponsor of the study, but other agencies involved include the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Contact: Jim Steele at 336-716-4587 or via email, jsteele@wfubmc.edu.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

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