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Center aims to cut obesity in black, Latino New Yorkers

NEW YORK (March 3, 2010) A $6 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has funded the creation of ORBIT: Obesity Related Behavioral Intervention Trials to focus on reducing obesity and obesity-related deaths in New York City's African-American and Latino communities.

"African-Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic, and its related risks for diabetes and heart disease," says Dr. Mary Charlson, the center's director, the William T. Foley Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluative Sciences Research in the Department of Medicine and executive director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "To address obesity, we will focus on changing eating behaviors."

Stress, certain visual cues, even someone's mood can all have a substantial impact on behavior and eating, she continues. "By affecting changes in these areas we think people will be able to achieve sustainable weight loss."

The new center is a joint program among Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University in Ithaca, Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx and Renaissance Health System in Manhattan.

Dr. Charlson will serve as principal investigator of a new study called Small Changes and Lasting Effects. It will take an interdisciplinary approach to lifestyle changes, with psychologists, medical sociologists, nutritionists and other experts working directly with community members in Harlem and the South Bronx to tailor personalized programs that are more likely to be successful than a blanket approach.

The team aims to develop mindful eating strategies aimed at reducing weight through small, sustained changes in eating behavior coupled with sustained increases in physical activity. Their goal is to affect a 7 percent weight reduction for each participant.

"What's exciting about this program is that we are going directly into communities that are most severely affected by obesity and high blood pressure, and we are creating interventions to be used at home, not in a hospital or clinical setting," says Dr. Erica Phillips-Caesar, assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and a physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "We are partnering with community and faith-based organizations right from the beginning, giving them an active role in how this program will be shaped."

Medical sociologist Dr. Elaine Wethington, associate professor of human development and of sociology and co-director of the Cornell Edward R. Roybal Center for Translational Research on Aging, is the study's principal investigator at the Cornell University College of Human Ecology. Dr. Wethington will contribute her expertise on social stressors and health, assessment of social networks and their impact on health behavior. She also will use her expertise, along with that of Dr. Carol Devine, professor of nutrition, to translate the research for use in the community intervention. Dr. Devine also will contribute to dietary measures and the relationships between chronic stressors from work and family and intervention outcomes.

Dr. Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, will contribute his knowledge on how passive and active interventions from the way patients stock their kitchen pantries and cupboards to how food is arranged on a table can be strong determinants in what and how much is eaten, and Dr. Marty Wells, the Charles A. Alexander Professor of Statistical Sciences and Chair of the Department of Social Statistics at the Cornell University ILR School will serve as the project's biostatistician. Each will serve as principal investigator at their respective school. Also involved in the study are Drs. Carla Boutin-Foster, James Hollenberg, Janey Peterson and Patrick Raue of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center; Dr. Balavenkatesh Kanna of Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center; and Dr. Walid Michelen of Renaissance Health Systems.


Contact: Lezlie Greenberg
New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College

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