Published on Friday, November 5, 2010
A summit that's both scientific conference and business policy forum aims to place Mississippi on the front lines of fighting obesity and related metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
The Global Obesity Summit 2010, sponsored by the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, runs Nov. 9-11 at the Jackson Convention Complex.
Obesity and related cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are rapidly becoming our most important health problems as well as major economic challenges to health-care systems throughout the country. Mississippi currently leads the nation in obesity in adults as well as in children.
While several programs exist to address obesity in schools, communities and rural populations, Mississippi currently lacks an aggressive, coordinated strategy to expand obesity research, education, clinical treatment and prevention.
Featuring speeches and panel discussions with internationally renowned scientists from Yale University, the Imperial College London and Vanderbilt University, clinicians - including Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Clinic and Cooper Institute in Dallas - national and state leaders - including U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius - business luminaries and health-care and economic policymakers, the summit will spur discussion and debate among attendees about actions to address obesity in Mississippi and the nation.
The summit also marks the founding of UMMC's Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Center. Leaders plan to hire and train researchers for the new center who can investigate the mechanics of obesity and metabolic signaling. Already world-recognized in physiology research, UMMC also will continue expanding its investigations into the roles of hormones in obesity.
As is well documented, Mississippi leads the nation in obesity. Heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S., cancer, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes all are closely associated with obesity. Mississippi is a frontrunner in those diseases as well.
Dr. John Hall, UMMC associate vice chancellor for research and the driving force behind the new center, said Mississippi's high rate of obesity and linked diseases is the reason why the Medical Center should be at the forefront of investigating them.
"We are the place where these diseases have the greatest impact, so we also have the greatest opportunity for the study of these diseases," Hall said.
As a researcher and chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Hall and scientists in his lab have long investigated the hormone leptin, which is highly involved in regulating appetite and energy burn rate.
Obesity, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases rapidly have become critical health problems in Mississippi as well as major challenges to the nation's health-care systems. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2009 that 34.4 percent of adults in Mississippi were obese and 17 percent of children ages 2-19 were obese. Ten years prior, the state's adult obesity rate was less than 30 percent.
"American society has become 'obesogenic,' characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, non-healthful foods and physical inactivity. Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity," the CDC reported.
What's less widely appreciated is how the poor health of our state's workforce passes along hidden costs to businesses.
"The more unhealthful our workforce becomes, the more our costs of health care increase - costs which are already significant," said Duane O'Neill, chamber president and chief executive officer.
"Additionally, businesses lose productivity when employees are repeatedly absent to receive care for preventable diseases."
Reflecting its dual sponsorship by UMMC and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, the conference offers two tracks: a scientifically oriented set of panel discussions, lectures and talks, and a track for business, health-care industry, policy and public interest.
Business and community leaders involved with the summit include Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council; Amy Ayers, vice president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi; Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi; Mayo Flint, president of AT&T Mississippi; Dr. Mary Currier, state health officer at the Mississippi Department of Health; and Dr. Jasmine Chapman, CEO of the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center.
The conference is endorsed by the American Physiological Society, the Inter-American Society of Hypertension, the Council for High Blood Pressure Research of the American Heart Association, and the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism of the American Heart Association.
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