From Sugary Drinks to Climate Change: Obesity and the Work of Dr. Dietz

By Izzy Moody ’19, GW Food Institute Student Fellow

Food Institute Faculty Affiliate Dr. William Dietz is the Director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Here are five initiatives that Dr. Dietz is currently working on:

  1. One of the first initiatives the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness is tackling is pushing for hospitals to ban sugary drinks, as public health officials did with tobacco years ago in an effort to use the medical community’s platform to change social norms. Dr. Dietz highlighted the prevalence of subsidized corn in our diets, particularly the contribution of high fructose corn syrup.
  2. Dr. Dietz is also conducting research on how to prevent obesity in 20 to 39 year olds: the age range that is at the highest risk. One study, conducted from 1970 to 1980, determined that 16% of women gained 5 Body Mass Index units during this age bracket. Another study, conducted between 1985 and 1996, found that 27% of African American women gained an average of 44 pounds after giving birth, highlighting the susceptibility of weight retention postpartum. This study is of particular interest, Dr. Dietz noted, because of the impact it has on the health outcome of the  women’s children as well.
  3. With the Lancet Commission on Obesity, Dr. Dietz examines the intersection between climate change, obesity, and undernutrition with a goal of developing policy levers that affect two or more of these areas. For example, one study examines the links between the health consequences of meat consumption, including obesity, as well as the environmental implications associated with the methane produced by cattle production.
  4. Dr. Dietz is involved with Building Community Resilience: an organization that addresses adverse childhood experiences and fosters community support for clinical systems that treat obesity from the national to local levels.
  5. In an initiative fostered by the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions at the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Dietz is working to develop common competencies for obesity management that are shared by a wide range of stakeholders- from nurse practitioners to physical therapists to nutritionists. Work from the Roundtable that has focused on integrating clinical and community systems for the prevention and management of obesity has been published in Health Affairs.