Obesity: A growing problem

Obesity: A growing problem

Symposium addresses weight issues in Americans and how to combat them

By Jesef Williams

Emma Smith looks and feels like a different person.

After years of struggling with her weight, the Jacksonville woman decided to take control of her life. Through mental focus, exercise and the elimination of unhealthy foods, Smith is now 60 pounds lighter and eager to share her story with anyone who needs encouragement.

“I look in the mirror, and I’m a different person,” said Smith, who listed fried meats and soda as specific items she removed from her diet. “When you lose weight, you have a good feeling about yourself.”

Smith’s success story was part of a multifaceted symposium centered on achieving a healthy weight and reducing obesity. The event was held May 31 inside the Learning Resource Center auditorium on the UF Health Jacksonville campus.

The eight-hour event featured other patients who’ve battled obesity, as well as UF researchers and health care providers from the Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses. Those faculty members talked about obesity-related trends and data, and issues related to the health care of overweight patients. Community members also spoke.

Madeline Joseph, M.D., a professor of emergency medicine at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, shared research about pediatric obesity. According to her studies, severe obesity affects between 4 and 6 percent of all youth.

She said she has seen an increased number of children experiencing pain in their knees and neck. Shortness of breath is also a major issue.

“Obesity is the new pediatric disease,” Joseph said. “It’s real.”

Worldwide, about 2 billion people are overweight, and the United States claims 13 percent of that total, said Kenneth Cusi, M.D., division chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the College of Medicine in Gainesville.

He said diabetes is a problem across the globe. However, it can be prevented, largely by maintaining a healthy weight. In addition to diabetes, obesity often leads to hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

During a later discussion about doctor-patient relationships, Cusi said it’s essential for providers to speak clearly and in a relatable fashion when explaining health matters to patients.

“You have to communicate in a way that’s understandable,” he said. “If the patient understands the treatment, they’ll do a better job of taking care of themselves.”

Tra’Chella Johnson Foy, M.D., an assistant professor of community health and family medicine in Jacksonville, believes it takes a “coordinated effort among the entire community” to successfully address obesity. She adds that society now mistakenly says it’s OK for people to be overweight.

“Obesity has been de-stigmatized to where it’s the norm,” Johnson Foy said.

The symposium was a collaborative effort among several UF Health entities, including the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program. It is part of a series of events collectively titled the Multidisciplinary Academic-Community Symposium Series to Build an Obesity Disparities Research Infrastructure and Agenda.