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Graduate School

Students present at 30th annual obesity conference

Our society is seeing an increase in weight gain and cases of obesity as the age of technology progresses. But two doctoral psychology students, with a partner in the clinical behavioral master's program; Summar Reslan, Melissa Pulcini and Shannon Clark, weren't going to take obesity sitting down. Under the supervision of Dr. Karen Saules, they examined some aspects of weight-loss surgery and presented their findings at the Obesity Society's 30th Annual Scientific Conference.

Reslan wanted to know more about the link between bariatric surgery and substance abuse, because previous studies show that post-bariatric surgery patients are overrepresented in substance abuse rehabilitation programs.

Her research showed that many individuals who report a substance abuse disorder (SUD) following surgery had no prior history of substance abuse, and that they lose less weight than patients without an SUD. In addition, she found that eating-related variables such as nocturnal snacking and environmental sensitivity to food cues increased the risk for an SUD.

Clark believed that food choice is important in determining weight regain following surgery. So, she took a closer look at patients' post-surgery willingness to work for healthy food versus unhealthy alternatives. Patients participated in a computer-assisted study that measured mouse clicks.

"Basically, we could measure if they were willing to invest the time and effort to eat one food over another," says Clark. "This (Clark's) result confirms that our computer measure was valid and that future research may be able to measure food behaviors with this measure too."

Pulcini had questions about addiction transfer, which occurs when a person exchanges one compulsive behavior for another, such as eating less and taking up or increasing a smoking habit. Working from an earlier study, she wanted to know if post-operative patients with SUD lose more or less weight than those not in treatment for SUD. While her questionnaire results conflicted with those from the earlier study, she does have some ideas for circumventing addiction transfer:

"Bariatric surgery candidates should be educated on conditions that compromise postoperative quality of life, as well as the risk factors for, and likelihood of, developing these conditions," she says. - Leah Shutes

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