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UTHSC Joins Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital To Fight Childhood Obesity

Two Doctors checking on a patient
Jon McCullers, MD, consults with parent on how to avoid childhood obesity

Memphis, Tenn. (December 13, 2012) The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is partnering with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital to launch a Center for Excellence in Pediatric Obesity. Jon McCullers, MD, unveiled the plans at the recent Let’s CHANGE Summit hosted by Healthy Memphis Common Table. Dr. McCullers was the keynote speaker.

“To me, pediatric obesity is the No. 1 problem in Memphis with our kids,” said Dr. McCullers, chair of the Department of Pediatrics for UTHSC and pediatrician-in-chief for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. “That’s because it drives so much of the chronic disease in terms of high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint orthopedic problems and so on.”

Tennessee ranks sixth in the nation for childhood obesity, receiving an “F” on a national report card from the Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit, non-partisan organization working to prevent disease, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to public health. Roughly one-third of all school children in the area are obese or overweight. High rankings for children lead to even higher ones for adults: Two-thirds of adult Tennesseans are obese or overweight. If that doesn’t change, today’s children could be the first generation in centuries to lead shorter lives than their parents, according to research from Le Bonheur.

“Obesity-related issues cost Tennessee approximately $3.6 billion per year and account for more than 10 percent of all health care expenditures in the state,” Dr. McCullers said. “The medical costs to the state are just staggering,” he observed.

“There are signs of hope,” he continued. “On a statewide basis, the obesity epidemic peaked about two years ago in Tennessee, so I think there has been some progress. Things are better than five years ago. But there is still a long way to go.”

Preliminary plans call for an institution-wide effort with 10 to 12 physicians having direct involvement. The immediate priority, however, is bringing in what Dr. McCullers called “a nationally prominent leader for the program.” Once such a leader is in place, he expects other elements to fall into place. The center will be one of the largest of its kind in the country.

“We will have a clinic as a frontage piece that will be a referral clinic where kids who are obese, at risk for obesity or have complications from obesity can be taken care of in a multi-disciplinary way,” Dr. McCullers said. As the program evolves, he foresees an actual brick-and-mortar building to house it. He also envisions partnerships with the Memphis Research Consortium, UTHSC, the University of Memphis and others.

The long-term goal is for the center to become an authoritative source for physicians, on the best ways to treat obesity, deal with complications from obesity, and interact with families.

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or allied health students — in addition to medical residents and fellows — at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities across the state. For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.