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PACO III: Training Capacity & the Obesity Epidemic


PAHEF will be holding a special workshop addressing the obesity epidemic in the Americas during PACO III, the Third Pan American Conference on Obesity next month.

Current and former PAHEF Board Members, Professors Gilberto Kac (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Rafael Pérez-Escamilla (Yale) and Fernando Mendoza (Stanford) will each be leading a session during the workshop.

PAHEF received a preview of what to expect from each of the workshop organizers:

Dr. Rafael Pérez-Escamilla – Training Needs in the Americas: Gaps and Models

National obesity prevention programs are not well coordinated across sectors because of the lack of visionary leadership that is needed. The life course approach for obesity prevention (including pre- and peri-conception, pregnancy and early childhood) is still not being acknowledged as central for dealing with the obesity epidemic, in part because those with leadership potential have not been trained on the life course framework.

The obesity epidemic in the Region has been in place for decades now and continues to be unabated to a point that it is now heavily affecting children. The Region does not have the leadership capacity in place, and it is only through a well thought out leadership development process that the obesity problem can be properly addressed.

Our workshop at PACO III focuses on building leadership capacity in the Region in the area of obesity. I expect a highly motivated interdisciplinary audience that collectively can speak on behalf of the key stakeholder sectors including academia, government, not for profit and private sector.

Dr. Fernando Mendoza – Training the Future Generation of Minority Scholars in the USA: The RAPID Model

Research in Academic Pediatrics Initiative on Diversity (RAPID) is an NIH-funded program through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) that links young scholars with nationally known senior faculty in the areas of childhood obesity, nutrition and sickle cell disease. This national program seeks to develop the next generation of scholars who will be leaders in their fields. The premise of this program is that providing early mentorship to young investigators in a way that also links them with other young investigators in their field provides the social-academic links that strengthen their research and career development. Through a national advisory committee of distinguished scholars, a young researcher will receive external mentorship to strengthen his or her research, increase their academic links to advance their careers, improve their understanding of funding opportunities to support their research, and receive leadership development to prepare them for future leadership roles. The vision of RAPID is to increase the pediatric academic leadership from underrepresented groups.

Linking a person's passion for a field with excellent training early in his or her careers will make them more impactful to the field. Excellence in any field comes from innovative thinking about problems. Such innovative thinking may be more likely if scholars have the time and opportunity to explore a variety of disciplinary approaches to a problem. This may be easier to do early in their careers before they are burdened with other duties and commitments. For example, in childhood obesity the problem of sustaining an effective intervention is key if long term impact is going to be made on this issue. Thus, for a scholar in public health or pediatrics, understanding the aspects of culture change may be critical. Such understanding may require approaches of study and evaluation that are from the fields of anthropology, sociology or psychology. Providing the opportunity for this type of exploration of the problem and possible solutions may provide the type of interventions that will be both effective and sustainable.

Leadership development is essential because of the high probability that researchers now and in the future will be working more in teams, locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally, and will require the skills to make them work effective. Moreover, the increasing demand for researchers to become leaders for change to improve societal problems requires that we teach these future leaders how to be effective leaders.

Dr. Gilberto Kac – Building Strong Post Graduate Nutrition Programs: The Case of Brazil

Overweight and obesity are important public health issues that affect an important part of the Brazilian population. A recent study described the trends in overweight and obesity prevalence rates from 2006 to 2009: the prevalence was higher among women and young adults; the temporal trend was higher among white women and those with less years of schooling. The results in this study confirmed the urgent need for effective prevention and control measures, as the increasing trend is occurring in a short period of time, especially among youngsters.

Brazil has 23 graduate programs in Nutrition and correlated areas today. Usually these programs are organized in concentrations areas, research lines and projects. For most of the graduate programs, there is a specific concentration area that encompasses the obesity issue, or at least a research line or projects in this area of science. Together, the programs have more than 200 professors and masters and Ph.D. students investigating several aspects of obesity. A whole body of evidence is routinely produced and disseminated as scientific papers, dissertations and thesis. The evidence produced may be used by the Brazilian government or specific government agencies to prepare programs, plans of action or contribute on the preparation of guidelines that may help preventing or lowering the obesity epidemic. The National Coordination of graduate programs plays an important role trying to put this whole body of evidence together and making the bridge between the graduate programs and the government and its agencies.

The Brazilian Ministry of Education's CAPES (National Coordination of High Level Personnel) agency includes the Nutrition National Coordination area that has the opportunity to act among the several graduate programs on Nutrition, stimulating the interaction among them, the change of experience and knowledge expertise. The National Coordination acts as a key stakeholder promoting joint projects, workshops and working groups. This approach allows a more effective way of producing new knowledge, that will provide the government agencies with more effective evidences to take appropriate actions.

Register for the conference, held in Aruba, June 6-8, 2013, via the PACO website.

A Sample of Recent PAHEF Projects in the Region