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Montefiore in the News

June 5, 2012

Montefiore is a Leader in Offering Healthy Alternatives to Combat Obesity, the Second Leading Cause of Preventable Death

One in Three Adult New Yorkers Has Diabetes or Pre-diabetes 

Sugary Beverages are Largest Single Contributor to the Obesity Epidemic

New York City (June 5, 2012) – Steven M. Safyer, MD, President and CEO of Montefiore Medical Center, joined Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley today to announce that obesity, which kills thousands New Yorkers per year, is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, second only to smoking. Additionally, driven by obesity, one in three adult New Yorkers now has diabetes or pre-diabetes. Obesity also increases the risk of some cancers, heart disease, arthritis, and depression. With the majority (58 percent) of New Yorkers now overweight or obese, obesity is the only major public health crisis in America that is getting worse. In addition to the toll on health, the costs to the public are steep: in New York City $4 billion is spent annually on health care costs related to obesity.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Obesity has proposed initiatives – including limiting the size of sugary drinks, significant contributors to the epidemic – with the goal of reducing the percent of obese adults by 10 percent and children by 15 percent over the next five years.

The Mayor spoke at Montefiore Medical Center where he was also joined by Philip Ozuah, MD, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Chair of Pediatrics and The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.

“In New York City nearly 60 percent of adults and nearly 40% of children are overweight or obese and there are real world consequences,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “People’s lives will be shorter, their quality of life is going to be dramatically reduced and obesity is going to start killing more people in this country than smoking. Obesity is the only major public health issue we have that is getting worse and New York City has the courage to stand up and do something about it.”

“We applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s courageous efforts to help fight obesity,” said Dr. Safyer. "I’ve watched for years as sugary beverages and unhealthy foods have been marketed to our children, while the obesity epidemic exploded. What we need now are far-reaching measures to protect our children from the risks of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers associated with obesity.”

Dr. Steven Safyer is pictured with Mayor Bloomberg (left) and Dr. Philip Ozuah (right)

As the largest healthcare provider and employer in the Bronx, Montefiore has been leading the charge against obesity in the Bronx for many years, supporting our patients, visitors and neighbors in the community with healthy alternatives. Montefiore is intervening on multiple levels to increase education, stimulate improved habits and ensure our delivery system fully supports the health needs of the community.  Working closely with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Healthy Hospitals Food Initiatives, Montefiore has made inroads in fostering good nutrition throughout the medical center. Montefiore became a smoke-free campus and eliminated all sugary beverages across our 131 sites in the Bronx and lower Westchester, impacting 18,000 associates, 50% of whom live in the Bronx. The medical center also eliminated Trans fats and fried foods and introduced 1% milk in all of its locations.

Montefiore is expanding access to healthy foods and running community fitness programs, including Zumba classes offered to its 18,000 associates and to community members, a partnership with the NYC Green Cart vendors who sell fruits and vegetables at strategic locations and hold cooking demonstrations with these foods in our clinics.

Montefiore works with community after-school programs to run B’N Fit, a comprehensive weight loss program for obese teens, including medical, nutritional and psychosocial evaluations, treatment, programming and a six-week summer camp. Montefiore School Health is the largest school-based health center network in the U.S. Comprised of 19 public school-based health centers in the Bronx, the program reaches 20,000 children regardless of ability to pay and uses evidence-based prevention activities.

Obesity is a rapidly growing and major public health problem. In the early 1960s it affected only 13 percent of Americans; by 2009-2010, 35.7 percent were obese. With 58 percent of New York City adults – 3,437,000 people – now overweight or obese, this has become the norm in our city. It is not a norm without consequences: obesity is a leading cause of preventable death, second only to tobacco, and kills 5,800 New York City residents per year.

The obesity epidemic has led to massive increases in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, which can result in blindness, hypertension, and amputations. One in three adult New Yorkers now either has diabetes or a condition known as pre-diabetes, a condition where blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes and the person is at risk for developing diabetes in the future. In NYC it is estimated that there are 2,600 annual hospitalizations for amputations related to diabetes and 1,400 new dialysis patients due to diabetes each year. In addition, applying national estimates to the NYC population, over 100,000 adults 45 years and older have diabetic retinopathy (eye disease) which if untreated, may lead to blindness. Obesity also increases the risk of some cancers, heart disease, arthritis, severe obesity leads to immobility and depression.

Obesity statistics are even more startling among NYC’s youth. Despite recent progress with childhood obesity, 21.3 percent of NYC children ages 6-11 years are obese compared to 19. 6 percent nationally.

The obesity epidemic strikes hardest in communities already suffering from health and economic disparities, particularly black, Latino and low-income neighborhoods; black New Yorkers are almost three times more likely, and Hispanics twice as likely, as whites to die from diabetes. The Bronx, in particular, is facing an obesity crisis. While the citywide rate of overweight and obesity is 58 percent, in the Bronx 70 percent of adults – about 630,000 people – are overweight or obese.

The price of obesity goes beyond human suffering.  Nationally in 2006, direct medical costs related to obesity were $147 billion.  Nationwide, higher rates of death among obese employees cost roughly $44 billion annually. Loss of productivity due to disability among active workers ($39 billion) and loss of productivity due to total disability ($65 billion) from overweight and obesity add to this toll. In NYC, obesity costs alone are roughly $4 billion annually, including private insurance and out of pocket costs.  Estimates of future costs are even more concerning: according to one study, obesity-related direct expenditures are expected to account for over 21% of the nation's direct health care spending in 2018.