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Team to Investigate Obesity Treatments with $3.65M NIH Grant

Principal Investigator and Psychology Professor Evan Forman, PhD, tells us more about the grant, which is co-investigated by Meghan Butryn, PhD, associate professor of psychology, Adrienne Juarascio, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, Stephanie Manasse, PhD


September 24, 2019

Researchers in Drexel University’s Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science (WELL Center) will use a new $3.65 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions for obesity. Principal Investigator and Psychology Professor Evan Forman, PhD, tells us more about the grant, which is co-investigated by Meghan Butryn, PhD, associate professor of psychology, Adrienne Juarascio, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, Stephanie Manasse, PhD, assistant research professor in the WELL Center, and Donna Coffman, PhD, an assistant professor in Temple University’s College of Public Health.

What is acceptance-based treatment for obesity?

Acceptance-based treatment (ABT) for obesity is a modification of our current gold-standard treatment for obesity, which is called behavioral weight loss (BWL) treatment. BWL teaches people how to modify eating and exercise in a manner that will lead to weight loss, and provides nutrition, behavioral and cognitive skills that help support these changes. BWL is modestly successful, but many people in the field are working to improve its efficacy.

ABT consists of several sets of skills that are thought to enhance people’s ability to follow a BWL prescription. These are:

  1. Willingness, which is the ability to make choices even when they are less pleasurable or even aversive.
  2. Awareness, which is the ability to accurately tune into one’s current experiences as they occur, including one’s hunger and fullness signals.
  3. Values, which is the ability to gain clarity into one’s ultimate life values and to have these in mind when making day-to-day decisions.

Are there any common misconceptions about obesity?

People sometimes assume that obesity reflects an underlying psychological dysfunction. However, in modern America, being overweight is the norm. About two-thirds of adults are overweight; only one-third are not. So, there is nothing wrong “in” us that makes us become overweight. Instead, the biological drives we evolved eons ago are simply not well suited to modern life, where high-calorie food is always available and movement is optional.

What are your plans for the grant?

In a large, randomized trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, we have shown that certain ABT and BWL components, when packaged together, produce superior weight loss than BWL alone. However, we have also seen evidence that some component combinations do not produce the same weight loss boost. For the newest project, we aim to learn which combinations are most effective, and for whom.

Tell us a little about the expertise that each member of the research team brings to the grant.

The most detailed information is available in our online bios. However, Meghan Butryn has special expertise in physical activity, Adrienne Juarascio has special expertise in achieving weight loss among those who are overweight and have binge eating, and Stephanie Manasse has special expertise in how people with particular neurocognitive profiles respond differently to the different treatment varieties.

We are also working with a world-renowned expert in mindfulness at the University of Kentucky (Ruth Baer), and statisticians at Temple (Donna Coffman) and Penn State (Linda Collins, also world renowned) who are experts in examining “factorial” effects (i.e., various combinations of treatment components).

Will the research inform work that is being done in the WELL Center’s WELL Clinic?

Yes, the WELL Clinic delivers cutting-edge, empirically supported treatment for both weight and eating disorders. We are already putting clinical lessons learned from previous research into effect at the WELL Clinic, and will continue to do so.

Grant title: “Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Interventions for Obesity: Using a Factorial Design to Identify the Most Effective Components”
Funding agency: National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Total Funded Amount: $3,646,355