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Carolina basketball legend Phil Ford has a long and illustrious history with his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Friday, he added another chapter to the storybook. The 1978 NCAA National Player of the Year announced that the Phil Ford Foundation will partner with N.C. Children’s Hospital and the UNC Department of Pediatrics to advance obesity prevention and treatment in children and adolescents through clinical research at UNC.

The percentage of overweight and obese children and adolescents in the United States is alarming, leaving a high percentage of youth prone to developing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Obesity affects about 17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents (or 12.5 million from ages 9 to 19) — triple the obesity rate from just one generation ago. North Carolina is no exception. North Carolina has the 5th highest childhood obesity rate in the nation, with nearly one out of three (33 percent) children ages 10-17 in North Carolina considered overweight or obese.

“Childhood overweight and obesity is putting today’s youth on a trajectory to becoming the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents,” said Eliana Perrin, MD, MPH, a leading authority in the prevention of obesity in children, who conducts her research out of the UNC Department of Pediatrics.

Ford announced plans to raise money that will provide a professorship, endowment funds and space to strengthen and secure a long-term focus on childhood obesity, benefiting children in North Carolina and throughout the country. Longer term, the foundation aims to help establish a research center for obesity prevention at UNC.

Led by Dr. Eliana Perrin, UNC’s work in this field focuses on factors that influence a family’s ability to help their children maintain healthy lifestyles. Dr. Perrin and her team have investigated the benefits of body mass index (BMI) screening, barriers to physicians’ use of appropriate methods for obesity prevention and treatment, and the relationship between culture and obesity. They manage several grants for studies investigating social factors throughout North Carolina that impact obesogenic culture.

“I can’t tell you the excitement I felt when Phil Ford walked into my office and shared his vision to create a foundation that would contribute to research on childhood obesity,” said Perrin. “Together with Phil and his foundation, I look forward to carrying out initiatives that will change lives of children. Through the support of the foundation and others who believe in fighting this fight for better health, we will become a national leader in obesity prevention and treatment research.”

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Published March 14, 2014.