Obesity Solutions reflects on inaugural year, looks to expand in 2014

After the first year of its existence, Obesity Solutions at ASU has begun stimulating students to pursue healthier behaviors by implementing innovative programs and projects with high hopes for the future, according to those involved in the program.

Last January, ASU partnered with the Mayo Clinic to form the Obesity Solutions Initiative with a goal to create new approaches and simple solutions for real people to battle obesity.

Dr. James Levine, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, is a co-director of Obesity Solutions and has published more than 150 articles and a book, “Move a Little, Lose a Lot,” to help create and implement these everyday solutions in Arizona. However, Levine praised student involvement in the initiative at ASU.

“Because our students are so inherently creative and dynamic, we’ve developed so quickly that we’re now taking stuff we’ve developed in Obesity Solutions and delivering it to the Mayo Clinic,” he said.

In April, students were asked to come up with innovative, sustainable solutions to the obesity epidemic for the first Obesity Solutions Funding Challenge. Four teams of entrepreneurs submitted winning ideas, including a game that teaches children about nutritional awareness and a program that teaches students and families how to cook healthy low-cost meals.

Levine said 1,000 Mayo Clinic patients will be enjoying these programs in 2014.

Sit-stand desks, an idea to create a more active work environment which was conceptualized by a winning group in the funding challenge, were applied to offices in the College of Health Innovation in July.

Obesity Solutions Associate Director Deborah Williams said there are already 20 sit-stand desks installed in Barrett, the Honors College as a part of Obesity Solutions’ Active Dorm project.

“We’re looking at students' perceptions of the desks,” she said. “Do they like them? Is it helpful in studying and activity?”

The testing period ends in May when the effectiveness of the Active Dorm project will be determined, Williams said.

Elizabeth Phillips, another co-director of Obesity Solutions, worked last year to create a better awareness of nutritional intake by opening the Wellness Learning Center at Taylor Place on the Downtown campus.

Phillips said this center is a unique storefront, which, paired with the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, will educate students and the community about cooking nutritious meals and maintaining proper dietary habits.

“One way to get people to eat healthier is if the food is healthier,” Phillips said.

Williams said expanding the already instituted programs throughout the nation is the next step on the agenda for Obesity Solutions.

“Our main push this next year is to move into the larger Maricopa County, but we also have partnerships with other academic university institutions,” Williams said.

The University of Texas at El Paso is one of the schools looking to adopt the Obesity Solutions initiative, Williams said.

To aid with the financial aspect of expansion, Levine said the Mayo Clinic already has a potential donor interested in helping Obesity Solutions professionalize everything it is doing to take to other universities.

Reach the reporter at anish1@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Nishes_Wishes

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