March 24, 2000

Center offers aid to both ends of weight spectrum

Featured Image

Kong Chen, Ph.D., tests Karen Townsend’s body composition in the new Vanderbilt Center for Human Nutrition’s ‘Bod Pod.’ (photo by Dana Johnson)

Center offers aid to both ends of weight spectrum

It’s now estimated that more than 20 percent of Middle Tennesseans are moderately to morbidly obese. To address this growing health crisis, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is opening the Center for Human Nutrition.

The new center, scheduled to open by summer, will offer comprehensive evaluation and treatment for obese patients through the High Risk Obesity Clinic (HROC). It will also house a Malnutrition Clinic to provide intensive nutritional care for under-nourished patients whose problems can include a variety of diseases and health complications.

No other facility in Middle Tennessee offers high-risk obesity management in an academic setting with clinical trials and skilled multi-disciplinary practitioners.

“Tennessee is one of the leading states in the country when it comes to obesity," said Dr. Gordon L. Jensen, associate professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Human Nutrition. "It’s clear that the number of obese individuals is on the rise here as well as all over America."

The 4,000-square-foot clinic, located in the Medical Arts Building, will be home to VUMC physicians, dietitians, nurses, pharmacists and Ph.D. researchers working across departmental lines to provide specialized care.

“It’s great to have a real nutrition component as a part of the Gastroenterology Division here at Vanderbilt,” said Dr. Raymond N. DuBois Jr., Mina Cobb Wallace Professor of Gastroenterology and Cancer Prevention, director of Gastroenterology and associate director for Cancer Prevention in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. “This really adds another dimension to the services we can offer Middle Tennesseans, and to our training program for fellows and housestaff. It has been a joy for Dr. Neilson and I to help put this center together and I look forward to its success under the guidance of Dr. Jensen."

The clinic's opening couldn't be more timely.

“Today, one in five Americans adults meets the National Institutes of Health threshold for the definition of obesity,” Jensen said. “For some groups, including African-American and Hispanic women, these numbers are significantly higher.”

The new center will bring collaborative expertise from a number of other clinical areas throughout the medical center to bear, inlcuding those of the Dayani Center, Diabetes Center, Cancer Center, Clinical Nutrition Research Unit, Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, General Clinical Research Unit, and the Geriatric Research and Education Center.

“The High Risk Obesity Clinic is designed for patients who are obese with related complications, or are at high risk for complications that are physician referred,” Jensen said. “Patients will undergo a comprehensive medical history and examination by a physician nutrition specialist followed by a three month program consisting of dietitian and nurse visits. The program can be renewed in three month intervals.”

Patients will receive lifestyle counseling in prudent diet, behavior modification, and exercise. Medications like insulin, oral agents for diabetes, diuretics, and lipid-lowering drugs will be adjusted as indicated. The center will also offer pharmacologic interventions with appetite or absorption-modulating medications for highly selected patients.

“We are offering a full service facility with the most comprehensive level of care available in this region,” Jensen said. “Patients will have access to highly qualified health professionals in a user-friendly environment designed for this express purpose.”

Through the High Risk Obesity Clinic patients will have access to clinical research trials that will bring cutting-edge interventions to obesity management. Referral for bariatric surgery, a stomach reduction procedure, will also be available for selected individuals.

Serving patients at the other extreme, the Malnutrition Clinic will offer similar services. Those suffering a variety of complications such as inflammatory bowel disease, malabsorption and bowel obstructions will be seen by physician specialists, dietitians and nurses.

“In addition to the two clinical programs, the center will also conduct educational programs for medical students and doctors in training,” Jensen said. “Center faculty and staff will also provide educational opportunities for allied health professionals, dietitians, nurses and pharmacists.”

The Center for Human Nutrition also plans to offer continuing medical education (CME) courses and community outreach programs for allied health professionals and local, state, and federal agencies.

The center is also preparing a web site to provide information via the Internet.

“Our overriding goal is to have the Vanderbilt Center for Human Nutrition become a regional and national leader in clinical nutrition,” Jensen said.