An interview with Deeb N. Salem, Chairman of Medicine at Tufts Medical Center, Physician-in-Chief at Tufts Medical Center, and a long time member of AACA’s Board of Directors.
Sampan: Dr. Salem, why is everyone so concerned about being over-weight and obese?
Dr. Salem: The statistics have been telling us that Americans have been gaining weight over the last few decades for a number of reasons. Being over-weight and obese puts people at risk for other serious medical problems that could be avoided, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and type-2 diabetes. These conditions can lead to other serious health problems and affect a person’s quality of life and survival.
Sampan: You mentioned that there are a number of reasons the population is getting heavier. What are some of those reasons?
Dr. Salem: Everyone’s very busy, there’s easy access to fast foods, but it’s also the size of portions. Studies that have shown the serving sizes at restaurants have increased almost by 50% over the last 10 years. We are also living much more sedentary lifestyles – there’s less physical education in school, more interest in computers, computer games and television for children and youth, and for adults – work is less physical, it is, again, more sedentary. The combination is not a good one.
Sampan: And what is an over-weight person to do?
Dr. Salem: Well we’re not suggesting that people stop eating fast foods, or their favorite foods. We’re encouraging people to avoid making them their staples as well as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fewer fried and fatty foods, and become more active, i.e. walking more, or enjoying a new activity such as ballroom dancing, Zumba, even bowling on a regular basis. There are many activities, both indoors and outdoors that can be done alone or with friends.
Sampan: So obesity and diabetes can be prevented?
Dr. Salem: Yes, for many people, making different food choices, reducing portion sizes and increasing one’s physical activities on a regular basis will help people to avoid gaining weight or lose weight and maintain that weight loss. By maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activities, many people will avoid type-2 diabetes.
Sampan: And the importance of avoiding diabetes?
Dr. Salem: Diabetes, like obesity, can lead to high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, circulatory problems, neuropathy (nerve pain) and glaucoma which could lead to blindness. All of which would affect a person’s overall health and ability to lead an active life. I should just add that there are two types of diabetes, type 1 where there is a family history and early on-set. Type 2 is the most common form and is the one that has risen drastically in recent years and is related to weight gain. Millions of adult now suffer from pre-diabetes which raises the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Sampan: So how is Tufts Medical Center helping to address the “epidemic” of obesity and rise in diabetes?
Dr. Salem: The Medical Center has a number of grant funded initiatives, including the Asian Health Initiative. For the current cycle, diabetes, obesity and tobacco use (smoking) are the priorities. Five organizations based here in Chinatown have been awarded grants to provide a wide range of physical activities such as ice skating, exercise classes, even rock climbing. The programs have been designed to meet the needs of adults, teens and children.
Staff from the Youth Wellness Program will also be providing training to grantees staff on nutrition and helping them to help their participants create balanced meals, understand food labels and choose healthy snacks.
Among the programs that we have at Tufts are a Youth Wellness Program that works with youth and their families to prevent obesity or help youth with healthier habits and weight loss. We have also initiated a Diabetes Reversal Program for adults.
Sampan: Thank you for this informative interview.
Dr. Salem: My pleasure.