Leann Birch, the William P. Flatt Professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences department of foods and nutrition, has been named the new director of the University of Georgia Obesity Initiative.
Birch, a leader in research on early obesity prevention, assumes this leadership role effective immediately.
The UGA Obesity Initiative was launched in 2012 as a campus-wide initiative.
Directed by Clifton A. “Cliff” Baile, a D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor and GRA Eminent Scholar in Biotechnology at the University of Georgia, the initiative’s mission is to address the epidemic of obesity and overweight that faces the state and nation.
Under Baile, UGA responded to this critical health issue with a broad initiative that harnessed the efforts of a diverse group of UGA faculty, said David Lee, UGA Vice President for Research.
Lee has led the initiative on an interim basis since Baile's death in 2014.
"As the new director of the UGA Obesity Initiative, Birch brings renewed energy as well as a focus on transdisciplinary research that informs effective and sustainable obesity prevention programs, especially for young children and their families," Lee said. "It is well established that dietary habits formed early in life have profound impacts on the risk of obesity in later life. Under Dr. Birch’s direction, the Obesity Initiative will also emphasize the reduction of obesity-related health disparities among low-income African-Americans through a partnership with the UGA Center for Family Research."
Before coming to UGA in 2014, Birch was a distinguished professor of human development in the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State, and director of the Penn State Center for Childhood Obesity Research.
Her research focuses on individual and contextual factors affecting the development of individual differences in the behavioral controls of food intake and obesity risk among infants, children, and adolescents.
In recent years, her research has involved randomized controlled trials, which have been successful in reducing early obesity risk.
These interventions, designed to influence maternal caregiving, infant feeding, sleeping, and crying, prevented excessive weight gain in infancy and reduced the prevalence of overweight during infancy and early childhood.
Birch is the author of more than 250 publications and has been awarded more than $30 million in federal research funding.
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