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Modeling Childhood/Adolescent Obesity in a Pig


A Presidential Memorandum established a Task Force on Childhood Obesity on February 9, 2010, illustrating how serious and pervasive the issue is to the nation’s public health. Strategies to address the best scientific evidence information are mandated, however, insufficient scientific information is available, largely because it is unethical to collect such information from children.

A Mizzou Advantage sponsored research project addresses this science deficiency by utilizing the unique set of assets available at the University of Missouri. The project employs a special type of pig, which has “thrifty” genes to store fat in large amounts when food is abundant. Pigs will be overfed and the development of obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes will be determined in young pigs to mimic these developing disorders in children.


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,” said Frank Booth, professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and the MU School of Medicine and a research investigator in the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center.

In the study, Booth and his team from the School of Medicine; College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; and the College of Human Environmental Sciences 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.

Ossabaw pigs were introduced to an island off the coast of the country 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 said.

Related Initiative(s):
One Health/One Medicine

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