Research Projects

Background

Obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and worldwide. Current numbers are astonishing, and the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. has had, and will continue to have, significant public health implications and serious consequences for cancer rates, cancer survivorship, and life expectancy.

The relationships between overweight/obesity, physical activity and sedentary lifestyle, diet, sleep patterns, and cancer risk are complex. Research has demonstrated that obesity is associated with the development and course of many cancers. Children may be particularly at risk, as evidence suggests that the majority of overweight children will continue to be overweight or obese in adulthood. Weight gain among cancer-survivors is common and is associated with poor prognosis. High-risk populations for obesity also experience greater morbidity rates from cancers of the breast and other cancers for which obesity, lack of physical activity, and poor diet are risk factors. Available evidence suggests that factors at the biological, individual, social-contextual, and environmental levels may all play a role in obesity development. Further research is needed to expand our understanding of the mechanisms through which obesity develops and the expansion of interventions that consider a multi-level approach to obesity prevention and healthy weight-maintenance.

Research efforts are beginning to integrate diverse disciplines, including health services, economics, urban planning, geography, informatics, and communications. This integration is expected to facilitate progress in identifying effective population-level interventions to prevent obesity among high-risk populations at local, state, and federal levels. The results of such studies may inform obesity-related policy and promote critical policy changes.

The goals of the Harvard TREC Center are:

  • to improve the understanding of the determinants of obesity from the molecular to societal level and across the lifespan
  • to clarify the biological links of obesity with cancer risk and survivorship
  • to translate these findings into actionable behavioral interventions and develop public health strategies that reduce risk of obesity and cancer in the population
  • to train the next generation of investigators in energetics and cancer
  • to disseminate research findings and knowledge and serve as a public resource

References to the issues discussed above are available at http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/trec/.