Obesity Explored Through Science, the Arts

Three Yale School of Public Health faculty members were among the speakers in a daylong forum Friday that explored the rise of obesity and the growing health consequences in the United States and beyond.

Kelly D. Brownell (left), director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and a professor at YSPH, Jeannette R. Ickovics (center), professor at YSPH and director of CARE: Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, and Susan T. Mayne, professor at YSPH and chair of the school’s Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, joined colleagues from the Yale School of Medicine and a host of other schools and private companies as part of a unique exploration of a major public health issue from both scientific and artistic perspectives.

The Global Health & The Arts forum, Obesity & Its Public Health Consequences, was held at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater. Academic talks were interspersed with plays from area performers and panel discussions.

Brownell said that there are three major food problems that must be addressed in the coming century: malnutrition and hunger, obesity and over nutrition and the environmental consequences that arise from modern agriculture. 

“There is not enough attention to these issues [right now] to head off a world crisis,” said Brownell, who also served as co-chair of the forum. “We have to make good decisions now or our children will pay for it.”

As a cancer epidemiologist, Mayne outlined the growing evidence that links body mass with both the risk of getting cancer and also with cancer survival.

Overweight men have a 52 percent higher risk for all types of cancer than their healthy-weight peers, while overweight women have an 88 percent higher risk. Unhealthy weight levels are also tied to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and other problems such as depression.

The levels of obesity in the United States and many other regions of the world have risen sharply within just the past 20 years. In the United States today, two-thirds of the adult population is classified as either overweight or obese. This contributes to a number of chronic diseases, which have become the leading causes of death in most parts of the world.

Ickovics, who curated the Big Food: Health, Culture and the Evolution of Eating exhibition that recently finished a 10-month run at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, said a word—globesity—has been coined to describe the phenomenon of rampant obesity in most regions of the world. It is estimated that there are now 1.5 billion people, out of some 7 billion, with unhealthy weight levels.

On the local level, Ickovics outlined some of Big Food’s successes in addressing the obesity problem. Museums are a great forum to inform people about people health issues and to make a positive difference in their lives.

Big Food drew more than 120,000 visitors, many of whom pledged to adopt healthier dietary habits and engage in more exercise. It cost less than $1 per visitor to create the exhibition. Given the salutary influence that it had for many, it was a pretty good investment, she said.


This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on January 28, 2013.