University of Kansas Medical Center approved for $10 million award by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study obesity treatment options

October 03, 2014

Christie Befort
Christie Befort, Ph.D.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A research team at the University of Kansas Medical Center has been approved for a $10 million funding award by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to study the comparative effectiveness of obesity treatment options in rural communities.

The study is one of 46 proposals PCORI approved for funding on Sept. 30 to advance the field of comparative effectiveness research (CER) and provide patients, health care providers and other clinical decision makers with information that will help them make better-informed choices.

Christie Befort, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine and public health, will lead the research project at KU. The study is one of two obesity-focused studies that PCORI selected to explore ways to reduce disparities in health care and outcomes for individuals who are disproportionately affected by obesity.

Nearly 20 percent of the population in the United States lives in rural communities. Rural residents suffer disproportionally from obesity and have less access to effective weight loss programs.

Befort's study will evaluate different approaches for treating obesity in primary care settings. Her three-arm study will compare the traditional, fee-for-service model with models that coordinate services either in the context of a patient-centered medical home or through a telephone-delivered disease management program.

The study calls for one of the three treatment approaches to be delivered at 36 primary care practices located in Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa. Patients' weight loss at 24 months will be used to measure the effectiveness of the different approaches. Approximately 1,400 patients will participate. The Community Partnership for Health, a resource for researchers within Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, assisted Befort in identifying the primary care practices.

The project, the Midwestern Collaborative for Treating Obesity in Rural Primary Care, will last five years. Befort worked with a patient advisory panel to shape the treatment approaches and also engaged with rural primary care providers, insurers, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Committee for Quality Assurance and state health departments.

"Primary care offices have the potential to fill an important need in treating obesity in rural America," Befort said. "The results of this study have the potential to immediately influence how the treatment is delivered. If the treatment approaches tested in this study meet the needs of rural patients, they could easily be adopted by other physicians, and have potential to affect payment policies, treatment guidelines and training of practitioners."

Befort, who is also the co-director of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, has coordinated obesity treatment studies for breast cancer survivors. Her work intersects with a variety of initiatives at KU Medical Center, said Edward Ellerbeck, M.D., M.P.H., the Sosland Family Professor and Chair of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at KU.

"Obesity is an underlying factor in many illnesses, so this project is an important addition to our work on the prevention and treatment of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease," Ellerbeck said. "It will also provide valuable information on how we can improve the quality of care in rural communities."

"One of our primary missions at KU Medical Center is to improve the health of all Kansans, with a special emphasis on those who are living in underserved areas," said Douglas Girod, M.D., executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center. "This award and the research that comes out of it will go a long way in helping rural residents in our state live healthier and longer lives."

The study is one of two obesity-focused studies that PCORI selected from 490 submissions that responded fully to all of the funding announcements PCORI issued in February 2014. They were selected through a highly competitive review process in which patients, clinicians and other stakeholders joined clinical scientists to evaluate the proposals. Applications were assessed for scientific merit, how well they will engage patients and other stakeholders, and their methodological rigor among other criteria.

"Obesity affects nearly 35 percent of the American adult population, and underserved populations, such as low-income and rural individuals, are at highest risk due to disparities, such as limited access to weight-management services," said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, M.D., M.P.H. "This study will take a patient-centered approach to finding strategies that best address these patients' needs, and we look forward to its progress and working with KU to share the results."

The award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract to KU. PCORI is an independent, non-profit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund CER that will provide patients, their caregivers, and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed health and healthcare decisions. PCORI is committed to seeking input from a broad range of stakeholders to guide its work.

PCORI has approved $671 million to support 360 research studies and initiatives since it began funding research in 2012. The Midwestern Collaborative for Treating Obesity in Rural Primary Care is the fifth project at the University of Kansas Medical Center to receive a PCORI funding award.

For more information about PCORI funding, visit

This work was supported in part by a Clinical and Translational Science Award grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences awarded to KU Medical Center for Frontiers, grant number #UL1TR000001.

Last modified: Oct 20, 2016