The 1970s was a decade of his­tor­ical firsts: Atari Games was founded in 1972, the first hand­held tele­phone was intro­duced in 1973 and McDonald’s opened its first drive-​​through window in 1975.

At the same time, the rates of obe­sity and Type 2 dia­betes began to rapidly increase at unprece­dented rates. That upward tra­jec­tory has con­tinued to this day, according to Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Insti­tute for Dia­betes and Diges­tive and Kidney Dis­eases, of the National Insti­tutes of Health.

Rodgers addressed stu­dents, fac­ulty and com­mu­nity mem­bers on Wednesday morning at 140 The Fenway at an event hosted by North­eastern University’s Office of Gov­ern­ment Rela­tions and the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences.

Recent esti­mates sug­gest that obe­sity and dia­betes rates have plateaued, but Rodgers noted, “That still leaves a large number of Amer­i­cans who are cur­rently obese and at risk for complications.”

He said obese and over­weight indi­vid­uals face an increased risk of suf­fering from a litany of serious health prob­lems that extend beyond Type 2 dia­betes, including stroke, car­diac dis­ease and var­ious types of cancers.

A variety of research projects across the nation are cur­rently focused on tack­ling the obe­sity and Type 2 dia­betes epi­demics. Nearly 60 per­cent of NIDDK’s budget of $2 bil­lion goes toward funding investigator-​​initiated R01 grants, making basic research a clear focus for the insti­tute. But, Rodgers said, knowl­edge is of little use “unless it is somehow dis­sem­i­nated to the gen­eral public, patients and policy makers.”

Rodgers pointed to the Dia­betes Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram and a related out­comes study, which found that increased exer­cise results in a 60 per­cent reduc­tion in the rate of Type 2 dia­betes among high-​​risk par­tic­i­pants. The ben­efit is even greater among indi­vid­uals older than 65, who are at the greatest risk for get­ting the disease.

But how do you trans­late those results from a study that only involves three thou­sand people to affect those 79 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who are at risk?” Rodgers asked.

In answer, he pointed to funding oppor­tu­ni­ties like the Small Busi­ness Inno­va­tion Research pro­gram and the Small Busi­ness Tech­nology Transfer pro­gram, which aim to bring ideas from the lab bench to the real world. He noted that these pro­grams are of par­tic­ular rel­e­vance to the ongoing work at North­eastern, “because of your experiential-​​education pro­gram and your out­standing basic sci­ence departments.”

In opening remarks, Tim Leshan, vice pres­i­dent for gov­ern­ment rela­tions, noted that the NIDDK’s focus on fixing real-​​world prob­lems such as dia­betes aligns with Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to solve global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sus­tain­ability. “With our expe­ri­en­tial model of edu­ca­tion and our use-​​inspired model of research, we want to have an impact on real-​​world prob­lems,” he said.