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[November 12, 2008]

Health Experts Convene for 4th Annual Obesity Conference:
Michelle Paterson Takes Aim at Childhood Obesity

 

At the Fourth Annual Obesity Conference, held October 29 on the SUNY Downstate Medical Center campus, physicians, allied health professionals, and educators gathered to discuss the major health risks posed by obesity and ways to prevent them. Featured guests included New York’s First Lady Michelle Paterson and Yvonne Graham, special assistant to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. They joined SUNY Downstate President John C. LaRosa, MD, and conference chair Clinton Brown, MD, who heads the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center, in offering a call to action

As director of the Health Plan of New York (HIP) Integrative Wellness Initiative, Michelle Paterson has a special interest in protecting and improving community health, with special emphasis on the needs of children. Soon after becoming First Lady, she spearheaded Healthy Steps to Albany, a contest to get children to exercise. In her address, she advocated for similar programs to encourage children to increase their physical activity. “By 2010, the root causes of preventable death will be poor nutrition and lack of physical activity,” she stated, adding that “this may be the first generation of children to not outlive their parents.” Noting that the percentage of children who are overweight or obese has more than tripled since 1970, she warned that the situation is particularly serious in communities of color, where one in three youngsters is overweight.

Yvonne Graham echoed similar concerns in her remarks. “Eat right and exercise sounds like simple advice, but if you can encourage people to change their eating behaviors and lifestyle, it can be a transformative movement,” she said.

The conference program was divided into three sections The first, moderated by Judie LaRosa, PhD, RN, vice dean of the Graduate Program in Public Health, focused on the health treats posed by obesity.

Sarita Dhuper, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics, discussed the growing incidence of metabolic syndrome in adolescence and it’s long-term health affects in the adult years. “High-waist circumference is a more telling characteristic of metabolic syndrome than weight,” she said. As to the age-old question — why do we overeat? — Dr. Dhuper offered various theories, including the “thrifty gene” hypothesis that may explain why humans have a natural tendency to gain weight.

Following a talk by Henry M. Tischler, MD, chief of orthopedic surgery at New York Methodist Hospital, on orthopedic problems associated with obesity, such as osteoarthritis, lower back pain, and loss of mobility, Girardin Jean-Louis, MD, associate professor of medicine at downstate and a leading researcher at the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center, described how sleep apnea can be both a cause and a consequence of being overweight. “Reducing sleep time releases hormones that can lead to obesity,” he explained.

The second section, moderated by Maria Yomtov, MSN, director of the Center for Community Health Promotion and Wellness, discussed the essentials for success in overcoming obesity. While clinical nutritional manager Stefani Skidell, MS, RD, offered nutritional advice, Daniel Cukor, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, offered psychological perspectives.

The third and final section focused on the latest interventions. Moderated by Frank Gress, MD, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology, it described the pros and cons of bariatric medicine for morbidly obese patients and the latest advances using laparascopic surgery.

In the question and answer period that followed the talks, members of the audience offered their views on the need for more effective interventions—in the local community, in the schools, and through government—to get America moving and eating.

 

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SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a Graduate Public Health Program, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks eighth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools.  More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.