In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled with nearly a third of the children in the United States currently overweight. With the help of a Mizzou Advantage grant, University of Missouri researchers are using a small feral pig, known as the Ossabaw pig, to study childhood obesity. The pig, which has a predisposition to store fat, will help researchers better understand childhood obesity in humans.
“Our research will provide the science that will help policymakers make the best decisions about how to tackle the national epidemic of childhood obesity,” says Frank Booth, a professor with appointments in veterinary medicine and medicine, and a research investigator in the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center.
In the study, Booth and his team from several MU schools and colleges will learn what changes occur to the Ossabaw pigs when they consume a high-fat or low-fat diet and engage in different levels of exercise. This information will help scientists understand how genes interact with environmental factors, such as diet and exercise, in childhood obesity and identify the best prevention and treatment methods.
Spanish explorers introduced Ossabaw pigs to Ossabaw Island, one of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia more than 500 years ago. Over the years, the pigs that could best store fat were naturally selected during years when food was scarce. These pigs have a genetic predisposition to gain and store fat faster, which makes them a prime candidate when studying diet and exercise.
“Due to the way they store fat, these feral pigs are extremely similar to humans when they are obese and can provide us valuable insight into childhood obesity,” Booth says.
Booth received the 2010 American College of Sports Medicine’s Prestigious Honor Award for his work to understand cellular and molecular mechanisms’ responses to exercise both anatomically and physiologically, his promotion of research within the exercise sciences and his leadership within the ACSM. At MU, Booth was a founding member of the Health Activity Center. The center conducts exercise research by pulling together experts from multiple fields, including biomedical sciences, physical therapy, nursing and physiology.
Mizzou Advantage was created to increase MU’s visibility, stature and impact in higher education locally, statewide, nationally and around the world. The first round of funding, totaling more than $900,000 supports proposals that boost existing faculty and community networks, create new interdisciplinary collaborations, strengthen the student learning experience, and propel Mizzou’s research to the next level.