Arkansas Scientists to Gather for Health Research Retreat

By Erin McGuinness

The Razorback Reporter

Experts in nutrition and health will meet for the first Arkansas Nutrition, Obesity and Health Research Retreat, Oct. 25-27, at the Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Sciences.

Jamie Baum, assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science, teamed with Sean Adams, the director of the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, and Rudy Nayga,  UA distinguished professor and Tyson Chair in Food Policy Economics, to organize the event.

Partners from the Fayetteville and Little Rock campuses, including the Center for Human Nutrition, UA System Division of Agriculture Research and Extension, UofA at Fayetteville, UofA for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center and Arkansas Children’s Research Institute will attend.

The organizers invited 22 scientists who have had successful research programs in the area of nutrition, obesity, health and exercise and have established collaborations with other researchers in the state, Baum said.

This is the first time that researchers from Fayetteville and Little Rock will gather for this retreat, she said.

“To get institutions like that together under one roof to support a common theme like this is kind of unusual, and it’s a really great thing for the state of Arkansas,” Adams said.

The gathering is intended to create collaborative research within the state on issues ranging from obesity to exercise and food insecurity, or a lack of access to nutrition.

Last year 34.7 percent of adults in Arkansas were overweight and 35.9 percent were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We realized we need to bring people together to help start solving this problem and sharing our research to create more outcomes that would help Arkansans,” Baum said.  

Scientists and participants will meet Wednesday and get an overview. The Thursday program is open to faculty and administrators from the campuses, food industry employees and government officials who are interested in the topics. Researchers will present studies that they have conducted in the state.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, UA sociology professor and director of the Community and Family Institute, is presenting his research, called Assessing Food Insecurity, Weight Status and Health Among Northwest Arkansas Youth.

Food insecurity is related to nutrition and obesity because it describes a lack of access to nutritious food, Fitzpatrick said. His research focuses on food insecurity for children in northwest Arkansas, including Fayetteville and Springdale.

Fitzpatrick’s research on homelessness, as showcased in Community and Family Institute Reports, also will be included in brief, he said.

Fitzpatrick conducted a food insecurity survey in Springdale High and Owl Creek School in Fayetteville, the responses of students are incorporated into his presentation.

 “I’m really feeling like (our presentation) is really the only one that’s going to be focused on food insecurity and why that is important when we talk about nutrition and health,” he said. “If we don’t have access to food, that’s a problem, and if we don’t have access to good food, that’s another level to the problem.”

On Friday scientists will have a chance to develop ideas for federal grant funding. The research projects in need of grants also will be presented. There are three sources of grants, including the UofA, UA System Division of Agriculture Research & Extension and UAMS, though the amounts have not been decided yet. Experts in these fields from around the country have agreed to review and choose up to four winners, Baum said.

The six partners will award grants to establish collaborative research projects on nutrition, obesity and health in the state of Arkansas.

“The most powerful effect and impact of the research is really going to come from when all of these disciplines are melded into teams that can address quite complicated probes, such as obesity, diet quality and exercise,” Adams said.

Next year, the organizers hope to have a second retreat where people who received grants at the retreat can present their findings and research, Baum said.

If the retreat is successful, Baum hopes to turn this into an annual event – possibly a regional conference where Arkansas researchers can build connections with scientists in other states, she said.

“I really have a feeling that this trickle down from this conference within the state is going to be very positive,” she said.

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