Solving the Obesity Crisis

September 04, 2020

Buddy System Is Key to Weight Loss

Obesity affects more than one in every three people in Louisiana. Known as a major driver of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and premature death, obesity costs the state nearly $13 billion per year. Those who suffer the most tend to live in low-income communities with limited access to healthcare, which is why researchers at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center embarked on a two-year study in partnership with LSU Health New Orleans, LSU Health Shreveport, Tulane, and Ochsner to find a solution—and they did, reporting their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine last month. Obese patients who “buddied up” with a health coach from within their own communities lost 10 times more weight than patients who received regular care and standard health information, including things we all know we should do, like eat less junk food and exercise more. Also, they kept the weight off two years later.

“Everyone knows what they need to do to lose weight, but doing it is very, very different,” said lead researcher Peter Katzmarzyk. “The key was to not send out experts from Pennington but instead hire in local communities, where they knew the area and the people and could make personalized recommendations. Weight-loss is not one-size-fits-all.”

Other investments LSU has made in the past year to help solve the obesity crisis were to partner with Our Lady of the Lake and hire Dr. Phil Schauer, one of the world’s leading bariatric surgeons and the first to perform laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery in 1997—a life-changing procedure known to help patients lose weight, improve cardiovascular health, and lead to long-term remission of type 2 diabetes. In addition, Jacqueline Stephens, a metabolic disease expert with a joint appointment at Pennington and in the LSU College of Science, recently secured $11 million in federal funds to establish a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence to understand the metabolic basis of several diseases and serious medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and stress-eating brought on by anxiety. These investments are expected to create more than a hundred jobs.

Weight-loss buddies

Patients who adopted the “buddy system” lost 5% of their body weight. Patients in the control group lost only 0.5%.

– Jewel Hampton / LSU

“I am confident that the creation of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute will make Baton Rouge the leading location for bariatric surgery in North America. As a nationally recognized graduate medical education and research hospital, we are honored to enhance our partnership with Pennington Biomedical and the School of Medicine at LSU Health New Orleans in establishing this institute.”

- K. Scott Wester, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center President and CEO