Obesity Working Group

Why an Obesity Working Group?

Alabama has the third highest rate of adult obesity in the nation, tied with Arkansas and behind only Louisiana and Mississippi. In Alabama, 35.7 percent of adults are obese, up from 33 percent in 2012 when the Obesity Working Group came together. A startling 44.1 percent of black Alabamians were considered obese in 2016, and if obesity rates continue on the current trajectory,

Alabama could have statewide adult obesity rates above 60 percent by 2030.

Overall, two-thirds of Alabama’s adults are either overweight or obese, and 14 of the state’s counties have obesity rates of more than 40 percent. In fact, two counties have obesity rates approaching 50 percent. Trends in childhood obesity are not encouraging; Alabama has the sixth highest rate of overweight or obese youths who are aged from 10 to 17 (35.5 percent). Auburn University has numerous experts whose focus in some way is obesity and the health-related concerns related to obesity; the Auburn University Food Systems Institute (AUFSI) has brought these specialists from a variety of disciplines together to encourage them to share their ideas and research.

Why we belong to the Obesity Working Group

The Auburn University Food Systems Institute (AUFSI) was created to promote interdisciplinary research, and a good way to do this is through working groups. The Obesity Working Group is a good example. Faculty members from kinesiology, nursing, pharmacy care systems, veterinary medicine, nutrition, geography, and education first met with East Alabama Medical Center’s Kathe Briggs, a member of Alabama’s Obesity Task Force, to write a proposal for NIH funding. They soon realized there was a need to learn more about the roots of obesity in Alabama, one of the most obese states in the country. The group decided to pursue funding opportunities but realized this could provide seed data for other funding opportunities. They committed to meet regularly, with the understanding that not every member would be involved in every proposal. As they have met, members have shared their research and have found many possibilities for collaboration, with an emphasis on mentoring young faculty. AUFSI’s role is to not only introduce faculty to each other, but to research funding opportunities, provide help with grant writing and administration, and develop integrated interdisciplinary solutions to research challenges.

Related Sites

Alabama Obesity Task Force: The Alabama Department of Public Health’s Obesity Task Force works to address overweight and obesity issues through advocacy, policies, environmental changes, and programs that support healthy lifestyle changes.

Nutritional Obesity Research Center (UAB): The University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center is an NIH-funded interdisciplinary research center established to foster a multidisciplinary approach to basic, clinical, and translational research and research training on obesity and related health problems.

Sustainable Health and Fitness Academy (Tuskegee): This Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension program is to promote healthy lifestyles, preventive health and wellness. It seeks to increase awareness among racial and ethnic minority groups in Alabama about the risk factors of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Centers for Disease Control: The CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity works to implement policy and environmental strategies to promote healthy eating and active living.


Kimberly Garza


kbl0005@auburn.edu / 334-844-8360

Dr. Kimberly Garza is an assistant professor in the Health Outcomes Research and Policy Department of the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy. Her research interests include application of behavioral economic theory to study preventive health behaviors, including medication adherence, diet, and physical activity.


Deanne Allegro



Dr. Deanne Allegro is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Auburn University at Montgomery. Her research interests include nutritional contributions to health disparities, nutrition and environmentalism, as well as yoga and health.

Tannista Bannerjee



Dr. Tannista Bannerjee is an assistant professor in Auburn University’s Department of Economics. She is interested in health economics, including obesity.

Onikia Brown


onb0001@auburn.edu / 334-844-3161

Dr. Onikia Brown is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics in the College of Human Sciences. Her area of specialty is community-based participatory methods to prevent and decrease obesity and other diet-related health disparities.

Sue Duran



Dr. Sue Duran, is a clinical pharmacist for the College of Veterinary Medicine, researches new products for treating diseases in food animals and works with veterinarians to study proper dosages and withdrawal times to ensure meat and milk safety.

Drew Fruge



Dr. Drew Fruge is an assistant professor and director of the Didactic Program of Dietetics in the College of Human Sciences. As a registered dietitian, he has delivered diet and lifestyle interventions in cancer patients and survivors and is investigating the impact of diet on the gut microbiome, systemic inflammation and carcinogenesis.

Courtney Gamston


Ceg0004@auburn.edu / 334-844-4099

Dr. Courtney Gamston is a Professor of Experiential Practice at the Harrison School of Pharmacy. Her current research includes the evaluation of emerging models of pharmacy practice including population health management and telepharmacy, especially as applied to the management of chronic disease states including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia.

Linda Gibson-Young



Dr. Linda Gibson-Young is an associate professor with Auburn University School of Nursing. Her research interests include home interventions for families of children with chronic conditions and school-based health education for school-aged children. Recently, her team of interdisciplinary providers implemented a project called TigerCHAT (Community Health, Awareness, and Training) with the Alexander City Schools.

Wendy Gray



Dr. Wendy Gray is currently an assistant professor in psychology. Her research is primarily focused on interventions to promote adherence to medical treatment among youth with chronic illness, particularly adolescents. She has a strong interest in improving self-management among adolescents and young adults with chronic conditions during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood.

Josh Hollingsworth


jch0010@auburn.edu / 334-442-4041

Dr. Joshua Hollingsworth is an assistant professor of pharmacology at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Auburn campus. His primary research interest is facilitating the formation of healthy habits and routines, including those related to diet, physical activity and exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and medication adherence.

Jan Kavookjian



Dr. Jan Kavookjian is an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy. Her research interests involve behavior sciences applied to health behavior changes like medication taking, being active and healthy eating, particularly in the context of diabetes and cardiovascular disease management and obesity.

Ann Lambert



Dr. Ann Lambert is an assistant clinical professor in the Auburn University School of Nursing and maintains practice as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Her research interests include childhood obesity prevention and prenatal factors that influence childhood obesity.

Yingru Li


yingru.li@ucf.edu / 407-823-1031

Dr. Yingru Li is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida. She is a former assistant professor of geography at Auburn University. Her research interests include social environmental disparities and childhood obesity in the Black Belt region; China’s heavy metal contamination and public health; and GIS and statistical modeling.

Sondra Parmer



Dr. Sondra Parmer is a specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Nutrition Education Program and an affiliate faculty member with the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management.

Danielle Wadsworth



Dr. Danielle Wadsworth is an assistant professor in the Auburn University Department of Kinesiology and director of the Physical Activity Promotion Laboratory. Her research focuses on developing, implementing, and assessing interventions to encourage physical activity and exercise.

Chih-Hsuan Wang


wangchi@auburn.edu / 334-844-7986

Dr. Chih-Hsuan Wang is an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology. Her research interests are motivation and academic performance in online learning settings and using technology to teach statistics and research methods, and she has worked on project design with other Working Group members.

Kathe Briggs

Alabama Obesity Task Force


Kathe Briggs is director of health promotion and disease management at East Alabama Medical Center’s Diabete and Nutrition Center. She is also chair of the Alabama Obesity Task Force.