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Dare to Be 100: Fat Kids and Medical Centers

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The fabric of my life displays the fact that many days are spent in and around medical centers. Stanford is my home church, but yesterday I returned from a three-day trip to Harvard where the Mega Medical Center is in brilliant display. Last month I sojourned at the University of Colorado in Denver which seems to stretch to the horizon. I transit UCSF and UCLA as a regular part of my life. These ivory towers are city blocks full of people and equipment all of which cost treasuries full of money. The U.S. spends $2 trillion dollars per year on the medical system, the bulk of which winds its way through various channels to these medical centers.

Stanford is well embarked on a $2 billion upgrade. Our CEO recently regaled the medical staff members on the incredible doodaddery that our towers will encompass. Great hurrahs. I put up my hand and asked, "What are you doing to keep people out of the hospital?" Silence.

Even more poignantly: "What are you as an institution doing about fat kids?" As this question is placed to the leaders of our nation's medical centers the silence of response is deafening.

The epidemic of childhood obesity overwhelms our senses. A moment's reflection shows that one-third of our children are overweight, and the majority of these will likely become adult obese people with diabetes and its gruesome byproducts.

Alarming too is the recentness of this epidemic. The prevalence of fat children was rare until yesterday. But between 1980 and 2013 it doubled. This epidemic is worldwide. A current report estimated that there are more fat kids in Africa than skinny ones. (1) What are the medical centers doing about it? Do they hear the alarm? How often do the governing poohbahs of the med centers go to parent teachers meetings, or to town Council meetings, or to state legislatures, or to Congress, or anywhere? How do they address this concern? The indifference is below contempt. Michelle Obama's fine effort gets hacked by political opportunism. Olshansky observes that the present generation of our youngsters is the first in our nation's history that will live less long than their parents. (2)

In my book Next Medicine I assail my medical profession for its irrelevance. (3) It fails in addressing the mission of assuring our human potential. It is so preoccupied with assuring black ink that the deep fundamental issues are exempted. Public health? What's that?

I wish that I could be proud of my profession. I can't.


1) Men's Health The Truth about Fat 7/11/2014

2) Olshansky J, Passaro DJ, Heredon RC et al A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy NEJM 2005;352:1138-1142.

3) Bortz W Next Medicine 2013 Oxford Univ Press NY, Oxford.