Research The Research Core  provides scientific leadership and technical support for all research activities conducted under the Center.  It includes the research projects and statistical support. The projects focus on biological, and population-based and individual social and environmental determinants.

Research Project 1—Abdominal Obesity and Genetics  aims to describe the distribution of plasma levels of ghrelin and its heritability in the Jackson Heart cohort, examine bivariate genetic and environmental correlations between plasma ghrelin levels and factors predictive of heart disease in the JHS cohort, and find polymorphisms and haplotypes associated with plasma ghrelin levels in the JHS.  Because ghrelin plays a significant role in energy homeostasis via the hypothalamus by controlling food intake, and is a powerful orexigenic and adipogenic agent in human physiology, it is important to study this biomarker in a cohort at the epicenter of the obesity epidemic. Ghrelin’s effect on metabolism is thought to be the opposite of leptin’s. Leptin was assayed in JHS’ exam 1. We propose to assay both ghrelin and leptin in exam 3, and to assay ghrelin in exam 1. Analysis of exam 1 biomarker data in conjunction with measures of obesity in exam 3, such as BMI, waist circumference, hip to waist ratio, as well as imaging data providing measures of visceral and subcutaneous adiposity and their ratio, will allow us to determine if the biomarkers play a predictive role in the development of obesity.

Research Project 2—Transmultidisciplinary Research, Built Environment, and Social and Environmental Determinants of Obesity—Recent research indicates that social and environmental factors, including the built environment have an impact on obesity and related disease. Also, bench research indicates some environmental toxins (natural or designed) significantly impact obesity development and pathophysiology. However, while negative built environment factors and environmental toxins have been found to coincide in predominantly minority populations, the relationships of these factors to the presence and severity of obesity in minority populations have not been researched to any appreciable extent. Purpose: This study examines the relationships between stressors including social relationships, such as interpersonal trust, and norms of reciprocity as well as resources for individuals that facilitate collective action for mutual benefit. It also will examine knowledge, attitudes and behavior, neighborhood anomie, the built environment of, and utilization of health promoting built facilities and the incidence, prevalence and severity of obesity (obesity and hypertension).

The research project will expand throughout the five-year grant period, utilizing the first year for planning, development of the instrument tool, recruitment of participants, working with community-based organizations to prepare for the remaining years of the project.  Data collection will begin in year 2 and continue through year 4 of the project.  The last year of the project, year 5, will include data analysis, preparing reports and manuscripts, and translation and dissemination of information.