September 2, 2014

U-I plans to hire 20 new faculty for obesity and genetics studies

The University of Iowa has announced plans to hire 20 new faculty members to study obesity and genetics. The head of the university’s biochemistry department, Charles Brenner, is one of the leaders of the “obesity initiative.” He says food production methods have given us nutrient-rich food that is relatively inexpensive.

He says we end up with an increase in energy intake and a decrease in energy expenditure. “And this in a nutshell is what is making us fat,” Brenner says, “so there is really an epidemic of obesity in Iowa, in the United States and all over the world.” But Brenner says the problem is far more complicated than just telling people to eat less.

Brenner says it has genetic components, environmental components like the type of food that is available to buy, sociological components such as friends and lifestyle as well as legal components. Brenner says the goal of hiring new faculty is to attack the obesity problem from all the various angles and share the research.

He says individual faculty members will be working on their own projects, but they are hoping to be able “break down the barriers between faculty in different departments and different colleges so we that can try to make an impact on this very multidisciplinary problem.” Brenner says they will also work with Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center and the Youth Fitness and Obesity Institute at the University of Northern Iowa.

The plan to hire 20 new faculty members comes at time when the state-supported universities have lost millions in state funding and say their budgets have been cut to the bone. Brenner says the U-I provost has made this project a priority as part of what’s called “cluster hiring” for projects that cut across different colleges and departments.

He says the university will use budget savings in other areas to fund the research and the project is also expected to generate revenue.

Brenner says “research intensive faculty” are frequently successful in attracting outside funding to support their salary and the salary of their staff. “So we actually expect this is going to create jobs by creating 10 new laboratories,” Brenner says.

The 10 faculty hired for the genetic initiative will study “emerging problems in genetics.”