Invite to collaborate on SD initiative(s) to address Obesity

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Tarek Abdel-Hamid
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Joined: Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:26 am

Invite to collaborate on SD initiative(s) to address Obesity

Post by Tarek Abdel-Hamid » Sun Feb 05, 2012 10:55 pm

We are launching a series of initiatives that aim to apply Systems Thinking to personal health management… in a form that’s accessible to the general public. We’re hopeful the effort will have a profound influence on how ordinary people think about and manage their health/well-being.
Our first—NOT surprisingly—is on Obesity. Human energy regulation, as you all undoubtedly know, belongs to the class of multi-loop nonlinear feedback systems—the same class of system that system dynamics aims to study. It is why, I believe, obesity is a "killer" application for system dynamics modeling.
This first initiative is also a sort of an “experiment” to gage the efficacy of a new social-networking inspired model for collaboration in science. Specifically, we seek to invite 40 researchers world-wide to collaborate on conducting our first (simple) experiment… and to ultimately share the authorship of the published findings. The attraction: an experiment with a much wider scope (1,000 experimental subjects) conducted in a fraction of the time. If successful, we plan additional, more elaborate, experiments (e.g., on goal-setting in weight management).

For those interested… I provide the specifics below.
Looking forward to hearing from you. Respond to:


The Specifics… (for those interested):
1. The objective of this (first) exercise is to conduct a worldwide (distributed) experiment that aims to assess people’s intuitive understanding of weight/energy regulation—essentially replicating the Both Sweeney and Sterman bathtub experiment on climate change. As with climate change, the physiology of human energy regulation—while quite complex—resembles, at some basic level, the processes of filling and draining a bathtub.
Specifically, we seek to demo that people have difficulties figuring out the dynamics of weight gain/loss... just as many did on climate change/bathtub dynamics. Because people can't (effectively) manage what we they don't understand, the results (potentially) could have direct relevance to obesity prevention and treatment.

2. Minimizing Overhead for potential collaborators.
To minimize you’re overhead, we’ve invested in building some “experimental infrastructure.” Specifically, the following has been accomplished:
(a) The “Experimental Task” has been operationalized as part of an interactive simulation that is running and ready to deploy on Forio Simulation (see link below).
(b) Furthermore, to make the effort more worthwhile to potential collaborators, the model has been extended beyond this experimental task so as it may serve as a stand-alone example/application suitable for use in introductory system dynamics courses.
Specifically, the simulation includes the following 4 sections (lessons):
• “Taking Stock” Uses a "ritual" many of us dread… "packing" those holiday pounds during Thanksgiving/Christmas as context for the experimental task discussed above.

• Un-Scrambled Eggs (and nonlinearity) Understanding some of the physiological changes that can occur when we wait until excessive weight is gained…and which can be difficult to totally reverse.

• Goals that Work (Oscillations) Understand the science behind the dreaded Yo-Yo dieting phenomenon… & why setting unrealistic weight-loss goals may be a major culprit

• The Energy Balance Equation (feedback) Understand the limitations of the ubiquitous (open-loop) Energy Balance Equation that we all use and love… BUT perhaps shouldn’t.

To access/Run it: ... /overview/

3. We are looking for 40 Collaborators.
To fill a forty-cell matrix. Each cell/experiment would include at least 25 subjects.

The 40 cells are:
(Adult vs children) X (Male vs Female) X (Obese vs Healthy Weight) X 5 countries (U.S., one in Europe, China, India, and one in Middle East).

As an example, one experimental cell could be: 25 subjects who are: “male-adults-with healthy weight-from Norway.” Another could be: 25 subjects who are: “female-adults-obese-in USA. (Obese is defined as having a body mass index >= 30.)

4. The experimental protocol that we should all stick to:
• Number of subjects (per cell): 25 (or more)
• Subjects given approximately 10 minutes to do the experiment.
• They would NOT be told that the purpose of the exercise is to assess people’s intuitive understanding of weight/energy regulation. They could be told that the purpose of the exercise is to illustrate important systems thinking concepts they were about to study.
• Subjects are not paid or graded.

5. The stats to be collected and reported:
• On subjects:
o Adult or children X (Male or Female) X (Obese or Healthy-Weight) X country
o Affiliation/context, e.g. MBA students, taking ABC course at XYZ University.
o Average age

• Performance on 3 criteria (responses to each criterion assigned 1, and incorrect responses given zero):
o When Energy Input declines after peaking on Thanksgiving but remains above Energy Expenditure, Weight continues to rise
o Weight remains elevated as Energy Input returns to normal between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
o Weight remains at its PEAK after Christmas “feasting.”

6. The Output/Deliverable
A journal paper with the 40 contributors as joint authors.

7. The intellectual/theoretical Reference:
Abdel-Hamid, T.K., EUREKA: Insights into Human Energy and Weight Regulation from Simple—Bathtub-like—Models,” Int. J. of System Dynamics Applications, Volume 1, No. 3, Summer, 2012.

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