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Obesity epidemic lecture fills Mayo to brim

By Viktoria Ristanovic

Todd Hobbs, vice president and chief medical officer for Novo Nordisk in North America, came to the College to give a lecture about the American obesity epidemic on Thursday, Sept. 21, in Mayo Concert Hall.

Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company that works primarily with people that have serious chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity.

Jeffrey M. Osborn, dean of the School of Science, introduced Hobbs with a warm welcome and a brief introduction about his background in medicine and his interests in diabetes and obesity.

Osborn informed the audience that Hobbs was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes over 25 years ago.

“His passion for defeating the disease intensified even more with the diagnosis of one of his sons with the same condition at the age of five,” Osborn said.

Osborn also mentioned the Novo Nordisk Student scholarships.

Novo Nordisk will support “four student scholarships in the amount of $2,500 each for the 2017-18 academic year for students who have attended at least two of the TCNJ-Novo Nordisk lectures this year and have been deeply engaged in TCNJ’s signature experiences,” Osborn said.

Once a symbol of wealth and prosperity, obesity is now a symbol of poor health. Hobbs commenced the lecture with some stunning statistics about obesity.

“Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight,” Hobbs said. “41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2014.”

Obesity is rising in young children because of fast food diets and sedentary lifestyles due to technology like tablets and smartphones, which discourage children from being active.

“The biggest impact is younger kids,” Hobbs said. “We need to help kids learn about food choices and activity.”

Hobbs shared his shocking findings after years of research with the audience.

“By 2030, 40-51 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to have issues with obesity,” he said.

Christina Boras, a senior biology major, agreed with Hobbs on the alarming prevalence of obesity.

“I know many people are obese in my life. It’s definitely a real problem everywhere you look,” Boras said.

Hobbs went into depth about body mass index, and how there are three classes of obesity once a person has a BMI greater than or equal to 30: class one (low risk) at a BMI between 30.0 and 34.9, class two (moderate risk) at a BMI between 35.0 and 39.9 and class three (high risk) at a BMI greater than or equal to 40.

Hobbs also explained how obesity affects females more often than males, and obese women have a greater risk for getting breast cancer than healthy women.

Despite well-known benefits of maintaining a healthy weight and active lifestyle, many Americans eat large portion sizes and aren’t as active as they should be.

Our society has an idea of what a healthy individual should look like — lean and strong. Hobbs knocked these expectations down by giving an example of a controversial magazine cover of a seemingly overweight female runner on it.

“You can’t tell if someone who may look overweight to you, is unhealthy or not. They may be in even better condition than someone who looks thinner and leaner than them,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs also advised staying away from over the counter diet pills.

“Over the counter weight loss medications not good for your blood pressure. There’s not one that will be beneficial to you,” he said. “Diet is about balance. It’s about knowing where your calories are coming from.”

Hobbs advised people who want to lose weight to do so in small increments, since people tend to give up on drastic changes in diet and lifestyle, and then weight is easily gained back.

“Adipose tissue wants to go back to where it was”, Hobbs explained. 

Hobbs concluded the lecture by spreading an urgent message to young potential healthcare providers.

“There is a shortage in health care providers given the growing demand for care,” he said.

Saif Hasan, a senior health and exercise science and public health double major, gave his input after sharing that he’s passionate about the obesity epidemic.

“Half the time, it’s because it’s personal. It affected me throughout my life and out of that grew my interest in healthy living. I can empathize with people who are struggling with it,” Hasan said.

Hobbs actively continues his research on obesity and diabetes. With his help, Novo Nordisk is discovering newer therapies to maintain a patient’s weight and try to lower it with treatments for diabetes.

With time, Hobbs hopes that awareness of the obesity epidemic will prevent people from becoming overweight and falling into the unnerving statistics.


  1. Poor public health, obesity, diabetes and related problems don’t seem to be improving amidst large quantities of complicated piecemeal advice. This is because healthy decisions involve almost every aspect of our lives. Perhaps the following life skills and dietary overview can help?

    Most people don’t know what a “portion” or “serving” of food actually is. Serving sizes have actually increased over the past fifty years. Most people don’t know what 100 grams of meat or any other food looks like. Many people don’t know their BMI (Body Mass Index) or that obesity or large waist size can result in diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, kidney disease, liver disease, depression, certain cancers and other chronic conditions. Do you succumb to the marketing trick of paying a bit more to buy or eat lots more?

    Stated simply, most people need to eat roughly one third of a fist sized piece of high calorie lean red meat three or four times per week. Women need to eat more red meat when pregnant but gradually reduce red meat consumption after pregnancy. Continuing to eat the same extra quantities of red meat after pregnancy would contribute to obesity. Alternatives to red meat need to contain the same amounts of muscle replenishing protein, iron for energy, zinc for healing and a wide range of other important vitamins and minerals.

    Increased quantities of plain water, salads, fruit, coloured vegetables, fish, white meats and wholegrain foods, plus small quantities of nuts and less processed foods are needed in most Western diets to help improve blood pressures and health in general. Animal fat consumption should be minimised. Western diets typically need reduced amounts of sugar and salt to stay healthy. People with existing obesity, cholesterol or diabetes problems probably need to minimise egg dishes. Potato chips, fries and deep fried foods should be greatly minimised to reduce cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and related risks. Steaming and microwaving meats and other foods rather than overheating can reduce cancer risks.

    People in different situations need different quantities and sources of calories, minerals and nutrients. Calories eaten need to be balanced with calories used each day. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your stomach has had enough to eat. All nutrients need attention, possibly taken as supplements, including correct quantities of calcium for bones and Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C for body growth, repair and operation. Vitamin D supplements can help if you minimise sun exposure to reduce skin cancer risks. Web sites and personal advice provided by properly qualified medical practitioners and dietitians can advise on individual exercise and nutrition needs.

    Unfortunately, people tend to overeat when they are not happy. The ability to make healthy happy decisions later in life depends a lot on skills and attitudes learnt early. The first thing to tackle is good well informed parenting with thoughtful praise and support that result in the security, health, balanced self esteem, balanced thinking and balanced emotions of children.
    Cheerfulness, laughter, optimism, concentrating on happy thoughts, interaction with the natural environment, uplifting music, planning for fun activities and involvement in a higher purpose contribute to happiness. These are also useful antidotes to substance and drug abuse.

    Altruism, compassion, compliments, emphasizing positives, forgiveness, morality, patience, sharing, smiling, social involvement, providing thanks, lack of prejudice, respect of other peoples’ rights and learning when to be either assertive or humble, increase the value of living and avoid lasting regrets. Avoiding prejudice against overweight people and recognizing virtues in everyone is important. Gratitude Journals or Apps. are worth a look.

    Diligence, use of checklists, prioritisation, calendar reminders, calm rational proactive thinking, mindfulness, evidence based decision making, consideration of consequences, cutting losses, learning from mistakes and creative engagement in positive activities, increase confidence, success and purpose.

    Adequate sleep, relaxation techniques, healthy posture, good daily exercise, warming up and safe stretches contribute to mental and physical health and happiness. And improved public health.


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