Dr. Bernard Gutin, a Medical College of Georgia researcher studying the relationship between fitness, fatness and health in children, has been selected a Fulbright Senior Specialist to help Spain deal with a growing childhood obesity problem.
Dr. Gutin, an exercise physiologist at MCG's Georgia Prevention Institute, left April 1 for Spain to spend six weeks helping health care providers at six public universities develop intervention strategies.
Dr. Louis Moreno, pediatrician at the University of Zaragoza, is coordinating his country's initiative to reverse increasing obesity rates as well as a 20-nation survey on childhood obesity.
"It's becoming as big a problem as it is here," says Dr. Gutin, who will lecture to faculty and students on the health consequences of obesity and low fitness as well as intervention strategies to prevent them.
The Fulbright Program, administered by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, matches countries looking for expertise in certain areas with U.S. faculty and professionals who can provide it.
Dr. Gutin has been studying fitness and fatness since the 1970s, well before its lifelong impact on health was understood. "We were interested in being fit for its own value: being able to perform well in physical activities and sports," says Dr. Gutin. One of his earliest studies had children run 1.2 miles around a track. "We wanted to see the factors that led them to perform better or worse in this kind of running event. The dominant factor, more important than any other physiological factor, was how fat they were. It was a rather surprising and clear-cut finding."
Years of research and the growing waistlines of Americans have clarified the true impact of fatness and unfitness. "Now, most epidemiologists would say it's more a predictor of future mortality than anything else, including cholesterol level, blood pressure, or an abnormal electrocardiogram." Smoking likely knocks fitness and fatness as the top predictor but sheer numbers favor the latter. "About 25 percent of people smoke," Dr. Gutin says. "With fitness, approximately 75 percent of the public is in the bad category. If you could get everybody who is in the bad category into the good category, the impact on public health would be greater than any other lifestyle change."
Dr. Gutin and others at the MCG Georgia Prevention Institute work to do just that.
He has been principal investigator on a half-dozen National Institutes of Health grants in the last 10 years examining the impact of fitness on fatness and vice versa. He and his colleagues are in the middle of the MCG FitKid Project, funded by a $3.3 million NIH grant, looking at whether after-school hours filled with physical activity, healthy snacks, homework and academic enrichment skills can help turn the tide of the 'obesogenic' environment of inactivity and unhealthy eating in which many children live.
It appears the public also is taking an interest. "We hear a lot about putting physical education back in school. We are seeing legislation coming forth at the national and state level and I have the feeling we might be able to turn this around," says Dr. Gutin. But it's a tough fight, with societal trends including fast food and excessive screen time. In his own childhood in the Bronx, his brother had to hunt him down to get him to stop playing long enough to come inside and eat a home-cooked meal.
He's excited about helping another country learn from the mistakes and experience of his own and keep it from following in the tracks toward obesity and inactivity.
Dr. Gutin came to MCG in 1991 from Columbia University in New York. He earned a master's degree in physical education and a doctorate in higher education from New York University. He completed postdoctoral training in stress physiology at the University of California, Santa Barbara Institute of Environmental Stress.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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