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If he recommends that an obese woman start taking daily walks as part of a weight-loss program, “she won’t do it if her neighborhood is not safe, or she can’t leave her infant alone, or she’s exhausted from grinding poverty,” he said. “I’m useless unless I can take the time to help her figure out realistic solutions.”
The Arizona program will set up a storefront office to attract patients and begin exploring how best to do that.
It also is seeking a grant to work on weight reduction with children at Minisinaakwaang Leadership Academy, a small charter school in McGregor, Minn., that serves students from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Training doctors and patients
Levine and Sen both say one problem facing obese patients is that many doctors have only a rudimentary understanding of obesity and don’t have time during a typical office visit to explore its complex causes.
“On one hand, it’s a simple matter of calories in and calories out — to lose weight you must burn more than you eat,” Sen said. “But it’s important to help patients understand how to make that work with how they live. It has to fit who they are.”
That’s where Levine hopes to offer a helping hand.
His team is studying millions of health records and is working to refine a diagnostic tool that doctors can use to better calculate the risks of fat carried by their patients and to tailor plans to help them shed dangerous weight.
“If we’re not publishing results, if we’re not getting better information into doctors’ offices within a year, come jump on us,” he said. “This is really important, and putting the apple vs. pear argument to rest can only help us focus on getting results.”