Coming to Terms with the Obesity Crisis (Adults)

In 40 years, the U.S. population has gone from 40% overweight to 68% overweight. Half of American adults are dangerously obese, leading to many chronic conditions and deadly (and expensive) diseases.

Scientists and doctors generally agree the obesity epidemic is behavioral in nature (not the result of a pathogen).

The key drivers are our choices of food and activity, but multiple additional factors also play a role — from family dynamics to cultural roots, stress, economics, lifestyle and many more. Unlike smoking or drinking, eating is not optional. How can Americans move to healthier lifestyles — or, if we can’t change these trends, how can the healthcare system cope with the results?

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Meet the Challenge Team

The Challenge Team Members are leaders in their fields and reflect multi-disciplinary, passionate and thoughtful perspectives for the Challenge they represent.
Challenge Team members participate in the discussion held by the Great Challenges community, and will be creating responses to questions submitted by the community on the discussion tab.

  - look for this icon throughout the Great Challenges discussions. It is used to identify comments posted by the Challenge Team members.

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John M. Auerbach, MBA
Director of the Institute on Urban Health Research and Distinguished Professor of Practice at the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University
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John Auerbach is a Professor of Practice in the Bouve College of Health Sciences and the Director of the Institute on Urban Health Research, a center devoted to knowledge discovery and its practical application to improve personal and public health within cities.  Prior to joining Northeastern, Auerbach was the Commissioner of Public Health for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 2007 to 2012. Under his leadership the Department developed new and innovative programs to address racial and ethnic disparities, to promote wellness (including the Mass in Motion campaign), to combat chronic disease and to support the successful implementation of the state’s health care reform initiative. From 2010-2011, Auerbach also served as President for the Association of State and Territories Health Officials (ASTHO).
 
Prior to his appointment as Commissioner, Auerbach had been the Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission for 9 years. He had previously worked at the State Health Department for a decade, first as the Chief of Staff and later as an Assistant Commissioner overseeing the HIV/AIDS Bureau. 

I approach the challenge of adult obesity from the perspective of a state public health official as well as a member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).  As such, I am I interested in gathering data that sheds light on the problem (e.g.who is most affected and why), in convening the many interested governmental and nongovernmental groups, in piloting new programs based on the best evidence of efficacy, and in considering the policies that will be effective across all levels of public health, within and outside of the health sector.  

John M. Auerbach, MBA
Director of the Institute on Urban Health Research and Distinguished Professor of Practice at the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University
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Dan Callahan, PhD
Senior Research Scholar and President Emeritus, Hastings Center
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Daniel Callahan is a Research Scholar and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center. His work over the years has focused on ethical and policy issues of medicine and biology. A philosopher by training (Ph.D., Harvard), he has in recent years focused on health care reform, particularly on issues of rationing and self-determination. He is the author and editor of 44 books and 600 articles.

I bring to the problem of obesity a long-standing interest in those large scale problems that require changing the values, practices, and behavior of large groups or even nations, that have come to be thought hazardous to health. Inevitably, such problems involve scientific and policy disagreements, ideological and political clashes, and divided public opinion. Obesity is influenced by the way we live our lives, often deeply embedded in our culture, and that is why it is a hard problem to deal with.

Dan Callahan, PhD
Senior Research Scholar and President Emeritus, Hastings Center
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Christine Ferguson, JD
Strategic Initiatives Advisor, STOP Obesity Alliance; Professor, The GWU School of Public Health and Health Services
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Christine Ferguson, J.D., a leading obesity researcher has been recognized as one of the most influential health policymakers.  She serves as a director on the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI and on two Institute of Medicine boards: Children, you and families; and health sciences policy standing committee on family planning. Previously, she served as Commissioner of Public health in Massachusetts, and from 1995 to 2001, she ran the Rhode Island Department of Human Services.

I have observed many changes both in the obesity world and the broader healthcare system throughout my time in health policy. “Obesity in America” has been an underlying focus in my many roles and continues to be in my newly appointed position as Director of Rhode Island’s Health Benefits Exchange. As the Strategic Initiatives Advisor of the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, and a professor at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, I have learned that obesity has affected many aspects of the healthcare system and can no longer be approached with one perspective, but necessitates collective efforts. Success in addressing obesity issues requires innovation, accountability and collaboration. Having developed a strong “payer” perspective from my role as Commissioner of the Department of Public Health and the Department of Health Care Finance and Policy in Massachusetts, I understand the challenges we face in the changing system. It is also an exciting time to be in this field, challenging ourselves and each other to raise the bar in finding new, effective approaches for the prevention and treatment of obesity.
Christine Ferguson, JD
Strategic Initiatives Advisor, STOP Obesity Alliance; Professor, The GWU School of Public Health and Health Services
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Scott Kahan, MD, MPH
Director, STOP Obesity Alliance
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Dr. Kahan is a physician trained in both clinical medicine and public health. He is board-certified in Preventive Medicine, and his clinical practice specializes in weight management and obesity medicine. He serves as Director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness.

In addition to his clinical practice, Dr. Kahan works as a public health physician specializing in obesity. He has been involved in numerous national and local initiatives pertaining to obesity, nutrition, and chronic disease prevention, and he has worked with Federal, state, and local governments, the National Institutes of Health, and several health advocacy groups.


Scott Kahan, MD, MPH
Director, STOP Obesity Alliance
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Joe Nadglowski
President, Obesity Action Coalition
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Joe Nadglowski is President & CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a non-profit organization formed in 2005 dedicated to elevating and empowering those affected by obesity through education, advocacy and support. A frequent speaker and author, Mr. Nadglowski has nearly 20 years of experience working in patient advocacy, public policy and education. He is a graduate of the University of Florida. In addition, Joe is the Executive Director of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Foundation, through a partnership between the OAC and the ASMBS Foundation. Through this partnership, the OAC and ASMBS Foundation aim to increase awareness and education on obesity and its treatments by bringing National attention to the cause through the annual Walk from Obesity.

Every day we are bombarded by statistics about obesity, from prevalence to healthcare costs. My hope is that my participation will allow a discussion of not only the statistical and societal impact of obesity, but also the personal impact on quality of health and life. From both my own and family experience, as well as my interaction with the Obesity Action Coalition’s tens of thousands of members who are personally affected by obesity, I hope to raise awareness of the difficulties of living with obesity, the challenge of treating obesity, access to appropriate evidence-based care, weight bias and more.

Joe Nadglowski
President, Obesity Action Coalition
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Rebecca Puhl, PhD
Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University
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Dr. Rebecca Puhl is Director of Research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. She is a Senior Research Scientist and is responsible for identifying and coordinating research and policy efforts aimed at reducing weight bias and improving the quality of life of children and adults affected by obesity.

I am a Senior Research Scientist and a Clinical Psychologist, and my work involves over 12 years of research studying the social consequences of obesity. Specifically, my research examines the stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that obese children and adults face, and how this unfair treatment impacts their quality of life. My work has highlighted the importance of addressing stigma in efforts to address prevention and treatment of obesity, to ensure that these efforts do not harm the people who are most in need of support. I argue that to effectively address obesity and reduce existing disparities, weight stigmatization must be included in the national discourse as both a social injustice and a public health priority.
Rebecca Puhl, PhD
Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University
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Maya Rockeymoore PhD
President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions
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Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is the President and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a Washington, DC-based strategic social change firm that helps make policy work for people, communities and the environment, and serves as the executive director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). She is also the founder of GlobalPolicy.tv, a web-based public affairs platform that explores important issues related to public policy, politics, and popular culture.

Maya’s expertise includes health, social insurance, income security, education, women’s issues and youth civic participation. She is the board chair of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and serves on the board of the National Association of Counties. Maya is also a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

A former adjunct professor in the Women in Politics Institute at American University, Maya has also served as the vice president of Research and Programs at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), senior resident scholar at the National Urban League, chief of staff to Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), professional staff on the House Ways and Means Committee, and as a CBCF legislative fellow in the office of Congressman Melvin Watt (D-NC).

Too many of us in communities of color have family members who suffer from obesity-related diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. Working on Capitol Hill and within national policy organizations has demonstrated the power public policy has in creating meaningful, measurable and lasting improvements to the quality of life for people and communities. As the executive director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, I work with state and local policy makers to support their efforts to reduce childhood obesity through public policies that promote active living, healthy eating and access to healthy foods.

Maya Rockeymoore PhD
President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions

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Challenge Team Perspectives

We selected 10 questions out of the many submitted by our Great Challenges Community, to be addressed by each of our Team members.
See their responses and perspectives, below.

Question 1

Being underweight can be unhealthy, too. Is there a risk of being overzealous in our anti-obesity efforts and actually creating new health problems?
Response from Christine Ferguson, JD

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