Poll shows support for funding to research aimed at obesity epidemic

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Biomedical research targeting obesity and its related chronic diseases are of great importance to Louisiana voters, and there is widespread support for the state of Louisiana to invest more tax dollars in public university biomedical research, a new poll shows.

Results of a telephone poll of 500 chronic Louisiana voters, conducted by Bernie R Pinsonat, Inc. earlier this month, were released today (Sept.18) by Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation. The poll margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Eighty-five percent of voters polled believe that the state should spend more public funds on medical research to help reduce obesity among Louisianans. Sixty-nine percent think Louisiana state taxpayer funds should be used to support scientific research at public universities.

Traditionally, faculty researchers at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center and other Louisiana public universities compete for research grants and contracts from federal and industry sources, including the National Institutes of Health, for direct funding of their scientific investigations. Research like Pennington Biomedical’s generates new scientific knowledge and new therapies and has the added benefit of boosting the economy by pumping outside dollars into Louisiana’s economy.

Poll results also reported 84 percent recognize that medical research has improved the quality of healthcare.

Pennington Biomedical is a world leader in nutrition research that reflects positively on Louisiana. Of those polled, 59 percent believe that Pennington Biomedical adds prestige to Louisiana's national image.

Pennington Biomedical, established three decades ago through a donation from the late Baton Rouge oilman C. B. "Doc" Pennington, is dedicated to meeting public needs through its scientific leadership and innovation. For example, Pennington Biomedical was involved in the development of the acclaimed DASH diet as well as current obesity medications taken by individuals worldwide.

In addition to its research prowess, Pennington Biomedical's impact bolsters the Baton Rouge area and the state of Louisiana in other significant ways, noted Executive Director Dr. John Kirwan.

"Pennington Biomedical's positive economic impact ripples throughout Louisiana, and at the same time our research environment is critical for training the next generation of research scientists," Dr. Kirwan said.

On average, each Pennington Biomedical scientist draws enough research funding to generate five jobs.

Here is the analysis of the four findings by Pinsonat:

1.   Ninety-three percent of black female voters in Louisiana want the state of Louisiana to invest in medical research to help reduce obesity among Louisianans. Couple that number with this finding: the response for all females was 90 percent. Ninety-three out of every hundred voters is an incredibly strong response.

2.   Eighty-two percent of Republican voters believe the quality of health care has improved because of medical research. Slightly more, 85 percent of Democratic voters have the same opinion. Only 11 percent answered no.

3.   When asked if Pennington Biomedical Research Center adds prestige to Louisiana’s national image, 59 percent of Louisiana voters answered yes. The number of male voters answering yes was 54 percent. Female gave a much higher response of 63 percent.

4.   About seventy percent (69 percent) of Louisiana voters agree that Louisiana taxpayer funds should be used to support scientific research at public universities. Sixty-four percent of males agree, once again with female voters, the agree percentage jumps to nearly three-fourths (73 percent). With black female Democrats, support is even higher, reaching 80 percent.

LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge is a world-renowned research leader, and its mission is to discover the triggers of chronic diseases through innovative research that improves human health across the lifespan. The center of 450 faculty and support personnel is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.

Biomedical research results in new business opportunities, new biomedical knowledge, new teaching opportunities and increasing return on investment. Continued and enhanced investment in public research is critical to recruit students, retain faculty and create industry partners to make national contributions in the field of research and to protect the state’s investment in its research and scholarly enterprise.

A review of American obesity statistics underscores the importance of public university research like Pennington Biomedical’s Dr. Kirwan said. Specifically, he noted that six in 10 Americans are either overweight or have obesity, exploding the gravity of the obesity epidemic.

Implications of obesity for Louisiana's children are ominous: more than half are projected to be obese by the time they are 35 years old, he said. The medical complications of obesity are so significant that for the first time, children may face a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Scientists like the researchers at Pennington Biomedical have for years understood the necessity of intervening to reduce the incidence of obesity and its medical complications, Dr. Kirwan said. Pennington Biomedical for the past 30 years has worked with the Department of Defense as well as drug companies, and those research partnerships have not only resulted in a better understanding of what human bodies need for good health but also in the development of new therapies and prescription drugs to treat medical complications of obesity like diabetes.

For example, he cited recent research funded by the National Institutes of Health that led to the discovery that bariatric surgery can reverse type 2 diabetes even before weight loss has occurred.

Dr. Kirwan also pointed to additional obesity-related research and discoveries by Pennington Biomedical scientists that have included:

--Serving as a leader in nutrition research for our U.S. Military Warfighter, retirees and their family members.

--Playing a key role in designing the DASH diet - voted the #1 diet in America eight years in a row by U.S. News & World Report.

--Creating an internet-based program to improve the lifestyle habits, nutrition and pregnancy weight gain of low-income mothers in the Women, Infants and Children program.

--Collaborating with pharmaceutical industry in the development of all of the approved obesity medications on the market today, as well as key diabetes medications.

Contributed by the Louisiana Press Association