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University Relations

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June 20, 2006
Contact: Karen Salisbury Henry, Schiefelbusch Life Span Institute, (785) 864-0756.

KU, Childrens Mercy Hospitals to jointly form research center to combat obesity

Joseph E. Donnelly

Joseph E. Donnelly

KANSAS CITY, MO. — The University of Kansas and Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics are joining forces to counter the growing obesity epidemic that now afflicts 24.3 percent of all Kansas children and 32 percent of all Missouri children by developing a cutting-edge obesity research, treatment and community outreach center serving the Midwest, with a special focus on childhood and adolescent obesity.

Aiming to serve 30,000 children in its first five years, the new Center for Physical Activity, Nutrition and Weight Management will be one of the nation’s largest public-private partnerships addressing obesity and one of the few nationwide focusing on childhood obesity. Scientists will pursue research that will be translated into child and adult clinics, programs, training and community education.

With key support from the Hall Family Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the center will represent an expansion of existing obesity programs at KU’s Lawrence and Medical Center campuses and Children’s Mercy. The center will bolster the greater Kansas City area as a national center for life sciences research and development.

“Childhood obesity is a national and a local crisis,” said KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway. “Helping children establish healthier eating and active physical habits early in life will have a significant impact on the overall well-being of our community, our state and our economy.”

“Our two institutions have significant programs in this area that will complement and build upon each other to provide a unique new research environment,” said Randall L. O’Donnell, president and CEO of Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics. “This new partnership with KU will further enhance our mission to be here for all children who need medical care.”

The center will occupy the second story of the new Don Chisholm Center at Children’s Mercy, currently under renovation at the northwest corner of 22nd and Holmes and scheduled to open within the next 18 months. The 14,000-square-foot facility will have offices, exercise rooms for children and adults, a metabolic kitchen, examination rooms, a wet lab, specialized equipment for measuring body composition and metabolism, an outdoor physical activity park and meeting rooms. It will also include a whole-room calorimeter, one of the few in the United States, that measures the energy a person’s body uses in normal activities.

The center will be directed by KU Professor Joseph E. Donnelly, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management at KU’s Life Span Institute in Lawrence. Donnelly is a nationally recognized researcher in weight loss and maintenance who has received $10 million in National Institutes of Health grants for his research since 2000. Several current projects involve more than 15,000 area children in strategies to combat obesity involving physical activity and environment, diet, pharmaceuticals and public policy.

Physicians directing Children’s Mercy’s portions of the research and services at the new center include Sarah Hampl, pediatrician and director of the hospital’s PHIT Kids program; Merlin Butler, chief of genetics; and Wayne Moore, chief of endocrinology. All three physicians have faculty appointments at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, have received multiple research grants and are involved with clinical care and research at Children’s Mercy related to pediatric and adolescent obesity. Butler and Donnelly have collaborated on a number of projects and publications over the past seven years, particularly related to research into Prader-Willi syndrome, the leading genetic cause of childhood obesity.

Funding for the Don Chisholm Center renovation was provided through a $4 million gift from the Hall Family Foundation to Children’s Mercy, which donated the space for the new obesity center. KU has set an initial goal of raising $5 million to fund center operations. The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation has pledged $1 million over five years for the center toward that goal. In addition, KU has committed resources to hire four new faculty positions for the center — two from the Lawrence campus and two from the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., to join the existing KU and Children’s Mercy staff who will work at the center.

“The Center for Physical Activity, Nutrition and Weight Management allows two of Kansas City’s most renowned health institutions to collaborate on one of our nation’s most concerning trends — childhood obesity. We will be a national leader in both research and clinical activity,” said Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation.

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and its donors are supporting the center because of its emphasis on a bi-state combination of researchers and institutions, said Laura McKnight, foundation CEO and president. Such collaborations were called for in “Time to Get it Right,” a report on the higher education system of Kansas City commissioned by the foundation.

“The center has a bi-state strategy with the collaboration of two of our region’s leading research institutions and is clearly an example of how Kansas City can make that strategy a reality to effectively and successfully compete in today’s global economy,” McKnight said.

The obesity research center could have significant public health effects in the region that will compound over time, Donnelly said. KU’s portion of the program will enroll 300 children and 500 adults in clinical settings in 3- to 6-month research programs by fall 2009 and more than 30,000 children in school and home-based programs in Kansas and Missouri by 2011.

Children’s Mercy currently treats one of the largest populations of pediatric diabetes patients in the nation and has recently been selected as one of only two institutions in the nation studying Prader-Willi Syndrome as part of the NIH’s Rare Disease Clinical Research Network. Research efforts in both of these areas will continue and expand as part of the new collaborative research center, along with the hospital’s multidisciplinary, chronic care approach to caring for children with other illnesses caused by their obesity. Children’s Mercy also has been selected as a member of the Youth Obesity Learning Collaborative, a nationwide network of health systems recognized for their leadership in childhood obesity efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While the clinical care Children’s Mercy provides to children with diabetes, heart defects and other obesity-related conditions will continue to be conducted within the hospital and clinic setting, the new research center will greatly enhance our ability to work with KU in expanding prevention, treatment and community education efforts to benefit all children in our region,” said Kevin Kelly, chairman of pediatrics at Children’s Mercy and professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


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