More than two-thirds of the adult population in the United States is either overweight or obese. Studies have shown that even with small amounts of weight loss, significant health benefits are attainable, such as a lower risk of heart attacks and certain cancers. Although most weight loss programs are ineffective over the long term as far as keeping the weight off, one of the more basic problems to deal with first is the high dropout rate. Importantly, ethnic minorities routinely drop out of treatment programs at a higher rate than do individuals from non-minority cultures.

"There has been very little research examining the experience that Mexican-American/ Chicana women have when they attempt weight loss treatment," said University of New Mexico Psychology Professor Jane Ellen Smith. "We have begun investigating why minority groups drop out of treatment prematurely at such high rates, and whether standard weight loss programs need to be modified to better serve unique cultural needs."

An earlier study with this population was conducted in Albuquerque by Dr. Julia Austin as part of her dissertation. She found that women who had the worst body image, who felt the worst about their bodies and appearance, were among the first to drop out of weight loss treatment. A fair number of these women didn't even come to a single session of treatment. Additionally, women who had the strongest "familismo" or familism (the value of putting family before self) did not meet their weekly food (calorie) goals as often as women who did not endorse this value. These patterns have not been studied in other ethnic groups.

Due to these findings, two studies in Smith's lab in the Psychology Department at UNM are investigating barriers to treatment attendance and weight loss in Mexican American/Chicana and Caucasian women who are overweight. Smith and graduate students Marita Campos-Melady and Katy Belon are currently recruiting research participants to find the answers why.

The first study, which is recruiting overweight Mexican-American/Chicana women, is a focus group study that will ask women to share their perspectives, opinions and experiences of the obstacles they face when attempting to lose weight. Participants will be asked to fill out a few questionnaires about themselves and their background, their experience of their bodies and their eating habits. They will then be asked to participate in a focus group of 6-8 women discussing weight loss barriers and experiences.

The second study is recruiting both overweight Hispanic and White women to complete some brief assessments relating to cultural and individual variables. Both studies are being conducted at the New Heart Cardiac Rehabilitation facility on Lomas in Albuquerque.

For coming in once and sharing their information and knowledge in either of these studies, participants will be invited to attend a free Weight Loss and Healthy Lifestyle Workshop, which will cover scientifically proven, safe and healthy ways to make lifestyle changes and support weight loss. Participants will learn about the most effective ways to lose weight and maintain weight loss without unsafe fad diets. They will be assisted in making a personal plan, and common problem areas and misconceptions about weight loss will be discussed.

"The participation of Caucasian and Mexican-American/Chicana women is greatly appreciated so that we can use their ideas to better understand their unique experiences of weight loss and help to improve treatments for this group in the future," added Smith.

Individuals interested in participating in either of the studies should call (505) 277-7514 for a recorded message. Callers need to leave a voicemail with their contact information.

Media contact: Steve Carr, 277-1821; e-mail: scarr@unm.edu