Obesity is an epidemic, and lesbians are nearly twice as likely to be overweight than heterosexual women.

Sarah Fogel, PhD, RN, associate professor of Nursing at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, is using an extraordinarily successful, predominately lesbian weight-loss group in Atlanta, as a model system for discovering how to target obesity in a lesbian population. Fogel is studying the group, and her findings are giving her a different view on weight loss.

"All weight loss groups offer an environment of like-bodied people (overweight or obese), but this is the first group, to my knowledge, that has been developed around other personal and social issues," said Fogel.

Adherence to a new lifestyle is often the most difficult barrier to overcome in weight loss. The Atlanta group, however, has had remarkable success in developing long-term change in its member's lifestyles.

"Perhaps the best representation of the group is to say that there are still several women in the group who were 'founding members.' They have been attending since October 2006 and continue to come even though a couple of them have reached their weight loss goals. The other side of this is that even the women who have not been able to lose what they want to lose keep coming this is unheard of," said Fogel. "It says volumes about the group."

Fogel is trying to answer a difficult question: How do we understand obesity in different social contexts? Being overweight or obese can lead to a number of health problems, namely cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, so understanding how obesity develops in different populations is a pressing concern.

Fogel will study the group over a six-month period, both empirically and qualitatively. Using body mass index (BMI) and relative weight loss, she will put a number on the group's success. She has already held focus groups in order to lend a deeper, more personal aspect to the study, and therefore weight loss.

The study will be completed in December, and it will be verified and ready for publication in spring 2008.

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