March 22, 2004

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Contact: Dan Lara, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU obesity program shrinks bodies while expanding to central Kansas

LAWRENCE -- A successful University of Kansas program to help the overweight combat obesity, America's second leading cause of preventable death, will soon be expanding to Hays and Salina in central Kansas within a year.

The program, called the Weight Control Research Project, is directed by KU exercise and weight management researcher Joe Donnelly. For more than 18 years, Donnelly has assisted hundreds of individuals to lose weight as he has researched obesity and weight management. The program currently has three clinics in the Kansas City metro area and one in Lawrence.

"We are excited to bring this program to central Kansas," said Donnelly, director of KU's Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management. "Obesity is the great disease of the 21st century. It will kill more people than any other chronic disease, but it is preventable and treatable through alterations in diet and physical activity."

The program has proved so popular that there is a waiting list of more than 300 people, Donnelly said. KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway was part of the program last year when he lost 55 pounds.

To be accepted into the program, participants must be overweight but otherwise in good health. The program lasts a year, and the goal is to get participants to lose 20 percent of their body weight.

During the first phase of the program, which lasts 12 weeks, participants are put on a strict liquid diet that Donnelly calls "a very aggressive liquid protocol." The liquid comes in the form of a specially formulated shake with 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of minerals and vitamins. The shakes are milk or soy based and come in chocolate or vanilla flavors.

Each shake is 104 calories, and participants drink five per day. During this phase, each participant is medically monitored to make sure his or her heart, blood pressure and body chemistry are normal.

In addition to the diet, exercise is another major component of the program. Participants must exercise 300 minutes a week (or burn 2,000 calories) and can walk, jog, swim or exercise in another way that burns the required calories.

"In this field of study, it's really about energy expenditure," Donnelly said. "We want participants to walk, jog and be active."

During the second phase of the program, which lasts 40 weeks, Donnelly spends time teaching participants how to maintain their new weight, a cornerstone of the program. After the liquid diet stops, regular food is gradually introduced back into the participants' menus.

The focus shifts to making lifestyle changes, consumption of 35 fruits and vegetables per week, maintaining physical activity, attending regular meetings and advance planning of menus and times for activity.

The program meets weekly for the first six months for 90 minutes a night. After the halfway point, the program meets twice a month. The program also carries a fee of $1,500. "That may seem expensive, but most comparable commercial weight loss programs cost between $4,500 and $5,000," Donnelly said.

Through the years, many people have been successful at keeping at or near their goal weight. In 2000, Donnelly attempted to contact 500 people who were participants in the early years of the program. Donnelly reached 138 and found that 38 percent were within 10 pounds of their lowest weight achieved while in the program.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Weight Control Research Project may call (785) 864-0782 in Lawrence or (913) 588-9422 in Kansas City.

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