Faculty and Community Exchange Ideas at First UM Obesity Symposium
Various drumbeats drawing attention to the critical and growing problem of obesity melded at the Miller School on October 10 during the University of Miami Obesity Symposium, an inaugural event organized by Tracie Miller, M.D., professor of pediatrics and epidemiology. The event brought together Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., and other physicians and scientists from across UM who are working on obesity-related issues, and members of the local government and community who are also concerned about the region and nation’s alarming obesity rates.
“In 15 years we have seen dramatic increases in the rates of obesity in this country,” said José Szapocznik, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology and public health and executive dean for research and research training. “As a consequence we will have in the years to come a burden on our health care system as well as a financial burden.”
Dr. Szapocznik, whose Office of Research sponsored the symposium, displayed data from the Centers for Disease Control showing that 33.8 percent of U.S. adults are obese, and about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 — totaling 12.5 million — are obese. He said the cutting-edge research being done at UM is intended to find solutions that could be applicable both locally and nationally. Indeed, several faculty members showcased pioneering work that could eventually lead to new therapies for obesity.
During her presentation, Sarah Messiah, Ph.D., M.P.H., research associate professor of pediatrics and a prolific researcher in childhood obesity, announced that she and colleagues are projecting a December release date for their first-of-its-kind book on metabolic syndrome at the pediatric level, a subject normally chronicled for its effects in adults.
At the day-long event, posters and presentations showed an array of approaches including dynamic work in metabolic syndrome, effects of antipsychotic drugs, obesity and diabetes, bariatric surgery, ethnicity and obesity, personalizing physical exercise, and the effects of the built environment. The posters, which displayed about 45 research projects, were mounted along the Schoninger Research Quadrangle. The Clinical Research Building served as the venue for the presentations.
Dr. Miller, who also gave welcoming remarks, said the symposium would bring exposure to the significant body of high-quality obesity-related research at the University and ultimately open doors for increased collaboration “so we can better understand the impact of modern technology, the differential of certain foods on obesity outcomes … what the local community is doing and how the University of Miami is partnering with the community to combat obesity.”
In her presentation, “Pediatric Obesity: The Trajectory for the Next Generation—Can it Be Altered?,” Dr. Miller spoke about her research that looks at obesity in the context of risk for heart disease and other illnesses, the nutrition of children with heart disease, the effects of TV-watching time on body fat, and how the diet of HIV-positive mothers affects their children. Dr. Miller and her colleagues are also looking into why some children with HIV are obese when the disease is known for its wasting effect on the body.
Dr. Messiah, who presented “Epidemiology of Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome in U.S. Youth: A Population-to-Clinical-Based Perspective,” also reviewed the national youth obesity rates, and pointed out her studies have shown that more children, even some in the 3-6 age range, are showing symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Collaborative research has shown, too, that for every year new Haitian immigrant children spend in the U.S., they gain an average of 4 percent of their body mass index. “It not just about children being heavy,” Dr. Messiah said, “it’s all the health risks that come with it.”
For his presentation, ‘”Personalizing Physical Exercise,” Dean Goldschmidt showed “The Science of Fitness,” a film in which he narrates the Miller School’s efforts to research and improve fitness and wellness through the exploration of genetics, nutrition and the benefits of exercise on a personal level. The film features the Miller School’s Genetics, Exercise And Research (GEAR) Program, as well as several faculty members and their projects and a program in China.
“It makes me proud to see the great work going on here and the exciting opportunities for collaboration,” Dean Goldschmidt said.
In addition to Drs. Miller, Messiah, and Goldschmidt, plenary speakers included Joanna Lombard, M.Arch., R.A., professor of architecture, and Scott Brown, Ph.D., research assistant professor of epidemiology and public health, who discussed “Built Environment and Health;” Ralph Sacco, M.D., M.S., the Olemberg Professor and Chair of Neurology, who presented “Obesity and Vascular Disease: Insights from the Northern Manhattan Study and Family Study;” John Newcomer, M.D., senior associate dean for clinical research and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who presented “Adipogenic and Metabolic Effects of Antipsychotic Drugs;” Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D., James L. Knight Professor of Psychology, Medicine, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering on “Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in Latino/Hispanic Americans;” Ronald Goldberg, M.D., who discussed “Obesity and Diabetes: More than a Risk Factor for Development of the Disease;” and Ann-Karen Weller, R.N., B.S.N., director of the Office of Community Health and Planning for the Miami-Dade County Health Department, who presented “Building a Healthier Miami-Dade Community.”