Dr. Jeffrey Levine, who appeared on “The Biggest Loser,” talks about his weight loss. / Jody Somers/Staff Photographer
The treatment for all of the above: lose weight.
After the 400-pound patient lost 183 pounds in 2005, the medical problems disappeared, said Levine, a family physician and women’s health specialist at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick.
But before that happened, it was difficult for Levine to encourage his patients to lose weight.
After all, the 400-pound patient was himself.
“It made it very hard as a physician to encourage patients to make healthy lifestyle changes themselves,” Levine said.
Levine, a Hillsborough resident, weighed more 400 pounds before he lost 103 pounds during a 12-week stay as a contestant on “The Biggest Loser’’ in 2005. He went on to lose the additional weight at home. He told his story earlier this month to a group of about 200 people, most of them health care professionals, who had gathered in the dental pavilion at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark to discuss the obesity “epidemic’’ in New Jersey.
Dr. George Rhoads, interim dean of the UMDNJ-School of Public Health in Piscataway, said what was innovative about the symposium, held on Jan. 11, was that it brought together professionals from a broad range of disciplines, including nurses, nutritionists, dietitians, economists and physicians, to look at the reasons for the growing trend of obesity in the state and nation and ways to address it.
“It’s not a new area, but it has been getting more attention in the past few years,” said Rhoads, who gave an overview at the symposium. “We really need everybody to recognize this is an important issue.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of all adults and 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States are obese. In 2010, 23.8 percent of adults in New Jersey were considered obese, compared with less than 10 percent in 1991, according to the CDC.
But, he said, health care professionals have been slow to give attention to the problem, which accelerated at a great pace in the 1990s.
“It took people a while to realize the extent that weight gain had taken place during the last century and the beginning of this century,” Rhoads said. “There are far too many people who are substantially overweight.”
With that, the occurrence of diabetes, hypertension, joint problems and sleep disorders increases substantially, placing a burden on Medicaid and Medicare, he said.
A person is considered overweight if their body-mass index is 25 or above, and obese if it is above 30, Rhoads explained. A body-mass index is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters, squared, he said.
Contributing to obesity, especially in young people, are computers and television, Rhoads said.
“They’re not only watching television, but they’re using computers which keep you seated,” he said.
Other contributing factors are the prevalence of fast food, and that some parents, because of safety concerns in their neighborhoods, are reluctant to let their children play outside, he said.
Irina Grafova, a health economist and assistant professor in the Department of Health Systems and Policy at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health, said urban sprawl and the designs of some neighborhoods built after 1969 add to the problem.
“Some of the newer neighborhoods are not pedestrian friendly,” Grafova said, pointing out that many of those neighborhoods contain cul-de-sacs which make it easier to drive than to walk from one point to another.
“The result is, older adults do not walk,” she said. “My own research suggests that children who live in the new neighborhoods are also likely to be overweight.”
Making matters worse is that the price of calorie-dense foods has not risen to the extent that the price of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables has, she said.