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International Health

From the Chair
Robert Black, MD MPH

This issue of The Globe highlights some of the Department’s work addressing the global epidemic of obesity. Professor Benjamin Caballero, one of the Department’s first faculty members to work on obesity, once titled a seminar “What makes the world go round?” This question along with even more pressing questions of how to reverse the worrisome trends in the US and worldwide now involve the efforts of numerous faculty and students. The analysis by Associate Professor Youfa Wang projecting future trends to predict that 86 percent of Americans would be overweight or obese by 2030 should certainly raise concerns about our unhealthy eating habits and reduced physical activity. His work and that of others have also shown troubling increases in obesity globally, including in Brazil, China and India. 

In addition to the research and obesity prevention programs featured in The Globe, our faculty members are engaged in a number of projects designed to understand and prevent obesity and related chronic diseases. Locally, Drs. Caballero, Gittelsohn and Wang in the Growing Leaps and Bounds project focus on promoting healthy eating patterns and preventing excess weight gain in the first two years of life. Two projects led by Professor Maureen Black at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and involving our Human Nutrition Program faculty members Caulfield and Gittelsohn, concentrate on other important risk groups, i.e. toddlers and girls in Baltimore middle schools with research on interventions to prevent obesity. Professor Gittelsohn also leads several projects based in Baltimore City to improve the availability of healthy foods in and around recreational centers and churches. These programs, such as Baltimore Healthy Eating Zones and Healthy Bodies, Healthy Souls, work with the community to help increase physical activity and improve diets. Professor Laura Caulfield leads nutrition efforts in the Baltimore County site of the National Children’s Study, which will follow participants from birth to 21 years of age, addressing the environmental influences on health outcomes, including on pediatric obesity and diabetes. All of these projects provide opportunities for Department graduate students. Internationally, the Department has some major new initiatives. Our faculty were recently awarded three Center of Excellence grants (out of 11 Centers funded nationally) from the NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to work with collaborators in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Peru on obesity and related conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. 

Obesity in high-income countries and the double burden of malnutrition, i.e., concurrent problems with maternal and child undernutrition and increasing child and adult obesity now being experienced by many low- and middle-income countries, require urgent attention and high global priority.