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The Center for Best Practices Focuses on Screening, Prevention, and Treatment of Obesity
STONY BROOK, N.Y., November 14, 2007 – The Department of Family Medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center received a five-year $1.33 million grant from the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to create a Center for Best Practices to Prevent and Reduce Childhood Obesity. Called the Long Island Center for Pediatric Obesity Prevention Best Practices in Heart Links Communities, the Center is administered through SBUMC and managed by the Department of Family Medicine. On November 15, SBUMC will celebrate the establishment of the new Center, which coordinates with healthcare providers in Nassau and Suffolk counties to prevent, treat, and screen for obesity in women of child-bearing years, pregnant women and infants.

According to Richard F. Daines, M.D., State Health Commissioner, childhood obesity has reached “crisis levels” in the state. The DOH reports that obesity is associated with increased prevalence in Type 2 diabetes in children, a form of the disease previously seen only in adults. Obesity also contributes to other chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, joint problems, and some types of cancer.

SBUMC is one of three institutions in the state and the only one on Long Island to receive the grant, issued in August. The Stony Brook Center is slated to be a state model for childhood obesity prevention. The two other institutions receiving grants for creating Centers for Best Practices to Prevent and Reduce Childhood Obesity are New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and The Foundation for Healthy Living, a not-for-profit health group with offices in Latham and Buffalo.

“This is an exciting opportunity to reduce the prevalence of obesity very early in life when physiological processes related to energy balance are being set and eating habits are established,” says Josephine Connolly Schoonen, M.S., R.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Director of the Center.

Toward this goal, the Center will develop training strategies to counsel pregnant women on optimal weight gain, promote healthy eating by mothers and their infants, create environments that support breastfeeding, implement procedures related to the introduction of solids to infants, and help establish healthy relationships to food.

“In addition to healthcare providers, we will saturate targeted high-need communities through school districts, child care centers and other organizations to run educational, screening, and prevention programs,” adds Dr. Connolly Schoonen.

Programs through the Center will build on other nutrition education/outreach programs operated by Dr. Connolly-Schoonen and Family Medicine. One is the Heart Links Project, a DOH-funded program since 1993 in which the Department of Family Medicine works with and recruits school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties to improve the school food environment. A team of dedicated registered dieticians and other public health professionals from Stony Brook and partnering agencies spearhead the program. To date, 23 districts have established healthy eating programs through Heart Links.

Future initiatives planned through the Center and Heart Links communities include: 1) awareness/educational activities to support policy changes that increase screening and identification for obesity by healthcare providers, 2) workshops for parents and primary care providers by registered dieticians and physical education professional, and 3) the creation of referral networks for healthcare providers for children diagnosed with overweight/obesity.

The Stony Brook “WIC” program, a nutritional and educational supplemental food program for low-income pregnant and breast-feeding women, is being expanded in conjunction with new program. The Center will coordinate and broaden educational activities at the Stony Brook and Bay Shore WIC offices to promote achieving and maintaining healthy weight among pregnant women and infants. The Center will also work with the WIC staff to improve breast-feeding promotion and support.

Partnering agencies with the Center include the Nassau County Department of Health, Suffolk County Department of Health, Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Stony Brook Child Care Services. Also involved are SBUMC’s Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Physical Therapy and Rehabilitative Science.

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