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Dr. John La Puma on Childhood Obesity

September 16, 2010

Dr. John LaPuma

In collaboration with Dr. Michael Roizen, Dr. John La Puma taught the first cooking and nutrition course in the United States that was designed specifically for medical students. Then with Rebecca Marx, Dr. La Puma went on to found ChefMD, whose mission is to make healthy cooking easy, even for people who never cooked before and never thought they could. Next came ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine. Health-conscious people get a twofer: tasty, nutritious food which is also medicine.

For those who absorb more easily through watching and listening, many of ChefMD’s recipes are available via YouTube clips, including some very specific ones, such as “Laotian Spinach for Liver Disease.” Dr. La Puma has also co-hosted more than a hundred episodes of “Health Corner” on the Lifetime TV network.

La Puma’s bio tells us that he is both a board-certified internal medicine specialist and a professionally trained chef. Yet, astonishingly, medical school provided only four hours of nutritional education, and cooking school, two hours. Improving that situation is certainly a priority, and that’s were the ethics enter the picture. Medicine and cooking are not Dr. La Puma’s only areas of expertise. A pioneer in the field of ethics consultation, he was the first doctor in the country to complete a post-grad fellowship in Clinical Ethics, and he founded the first American community hospital ethics center.

The ChefMD cookbook is subtitled, “A Food Lover’s Road Map to Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Getting Really Healthy,” and Dr. La Puma is not kidding. He’s big on preventive eating, comparing it to seat belts in a vehicle, which “save more lives than any doctor ever will.” He likes to inspire people to become measurably healthier through their choice of food. In other words, Dr. La Puma likes to help people transform their lives, and teaches them that they can do it by making small changes that add up to big differences.

Last month, Dr. La Puma testified at a Legislative Informational Hearing on Diabetes and Obesity, in Sacramento, California. His presentation covers both topics, and what he says about obesity in general applies, naturally, to children. What does he say? Well, would you be surprised to learn that soda pop is a real humdinger of an obesity generator? Of course not. But did you know that sociodemographic differences mean nothing? No matter how old we are, or from what ethnic background, or how much money we have, this is as certain as death and taxes: Drink at least one bottle of sugar-sweetened beverage per day, and your likelihood of being overweight or obese increases by 27%.

Speaking of ethnicity, did you know this?

Almost all native ethnic diets are actually more healthful than the Standard American Diet — Mediterranean, Asian, Mexican and Latin American. All these diets actually have very little in common… but they have a big focus on eating minimally processed whole foods.

Also, did you realize that the average American ingests 32 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per year? Yikes! Could this just possibly have any causal relationship with the childhood obesity epidemic?

What do patients need? Clear, explicit messages to eat less, be more active, and save hedonic food treats for special occasions. What do doctors need? Empowerment to write prescriptions for fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The state of Massachusetts is already piloting an experimental program to allow for that.

Doctors also need less academic debate and more action. Childhood obesity is not primarily a “how” problem, but a “what” problem. Yes, tracing down the reasons to understand how it happens is a fine thing, but figuring out what to do about it is rather urgent. While we explore the often-obscure reasons for dangerous overindulgence in food, kids are suffering.

Let’s finish up with this thought from Dr. La Puma:

The fast food industry refers to its best customers — eating 14 meals a week or more — as ‘heavy users.’ That’s a term borrowed [from] the medical addiction literature, including tobacco addiction.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “John La Puma, M.D.’s Summary,”
Source: “Bootleg Legislative Testimony: Diabetes Prevention,” Vimeo, 09/07/10
Image of Dr. John La Puma used under Fair Use: Reporting.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2010 1:52 PM

    Thanks for the terrific write-up of my work.
    One correction: Rebecca Marx and I started ChefMD and, not Dr. Roizen and I…though Dr. Roizen remains a leader and pioneer in the wellness movement, and is now Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic.
    We have a huge opportunity to change how people eat, for the better. The time is now.

  2. September 17, 2010 2:48 PM

    While it is true that many need to consume less (especially of the high corn fructose syrup) children also need to be more physically active in school and the schools should be aware of this. With the combination of proper eating and good exercise, obesity will be more easily combatted.

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