With the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S., associate nursing professor Sally Miller is interested in helping obese people lose weight and keep it off.
To achieve that end, Miller conducts research on the incidence of and attitudes toward obesity across the lifespan, with a particular focus on long-term maintenance of weight loss.
"As a clinician, I found that a great number of patients in my practice have struggled with obesity and suffer from both physical and psychological issues," says Miller, who has received grant funding from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. "From a nursing perspective, I focus my research efforts on both treatment and prevention by emphasizing the health implications as well as the emotional issues surrounding obesity."
In addition to these areas, Miller has recently investigated a physiological aspect of weight loss: She is currently examining how levels of ghrelin, a hunger stimulant hormone produced in the gastrointestinal tract, fluctuate in people who have lost weight.
Ghrelin was first identified as a growth hormone less than a decade ago, and there is some suggestion that ghrelin levels rise disproportionately after someone loses weight. This increase leads to increased hunger and subsequent weight gain in some people.
"The practical implication is that you work hard to lose weight, have to adjust to diet and lifestyle changes, and then have to live with a hormone that makes you hungry all the time," says Miller. "It's as if you're being punished for losing weight. There has to be a solution to this, and we're working to find it."