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VOL. 129 | NO. 128 | Wednesday, July 2, 2014

University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Le Bonheur Form Pediatric Obesity Center

By Don Wade

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Doctors like to go where they are needed.


Dr. Joan C. Han is coming to Memphis to be the founding director of the new UT-Le Bonheur Pediatric Obesity Center and to direct the new Le Bonheur Healthy Lifestyle Clinic.

“A third of our kids are overweight or obese and that translates into two-thirds of our adults are overweight or obese in Tennessee,” said Dr. Jon McCullers, professor and chair of University of Tennessee Health Science Center Pediatrics and Le Bonheur Children Hospital’s pediatrician-in-chief.

McCullers said since becoming chair of the department more than two years ago, re-making the Pediatric Obesity Center was one of his priorities. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Han said the “high prevalence” of obesity in Memphis made the job attractive. But so, too, she said improvements in the city related to lifestyle, such as the building of the Greenline and an increase in bike lanes. The city, she said, seems to have a spirit of change about it.

Han joins UTHSC and Le Bonheur from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, where she worked for a decade. She has a long and distinguished resume, having published 37 original articles in journals and earning more than 30 academic awards, honors and scholarships during her career.

But the best news for Memphis is McCullers’ description of her: “She’s an absolute dynamo.”

The Pediatric Obesity Center will focus on research and patient care in an effort to reduce childhood obesity in the Mid-South. The new center will be located on the Le Bonheur Children’s campus, which is near the UTHSC main campus in the Memphis Medical Center.

McCullers says they are adding staff for both the Pediatric Obesity Center and the Healthy Lifestyle Clinic. This includes MDs, PhDs, and positions in psychology, nutrition, rehabilitative medicine, nursing, research coordination and exercise physiology.

Han says they are only at the beginning of a long-term commitment in changing obesity statistics.

“The idea would be to reverse the trend over time,” she said. “It’s not a 10-year projection; it’s more like a 20-year or 30-year projection.”

But she also doesn’t want all the emphasis to be on weight. That’s where the Healthy Lifestyle Clinic comes in.

“It’s just one piece of the puzzle,” Han said, adding that body composition – fat to muscle ratio – is more important than a single number.

“I’d like to bring a concept of health and fitness,” she said. “This isn’t just focused on weight.”

To that end, working with children to adopt healthy lifestyles will by necessity mean also reaching out to parents and siblings.

“Most of the intervention will target entire families instead of just kids,” McCullers said, adding that he is optimistic about the effectiveness. “Once you teach people healthy lifestyles and empower them, they can (make changes) long-term.”

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