Fighting "Diabesity": Conference Brings Experts to Tackle Global Health Crisis


The intimate relationship between diabetes and obesity—often referred to as “diabesity”—is a global health problem reaching epidemic proportions.

“Thirty-three percent of U.S. adults are obese and one in every 3 people born in the U.S. this year will develop diabetes in their lifetime,” said Theodore Mazzone, professor of medicine and pharmacology and chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism.

Leading scientists, physicians and community health experts will focus on this serious public health problem Tuesday at the UIC Midwest Conference on Diabetes.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis will give the opening remarks at the conference, hosted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, UIC and the College of Medicine.

“UIC is proud to co-sponsor this important meeting on a critical health concern,” said Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, who is an elected member of the institute and chairs a section of its membership committee. “Diabetes has long been a research focus at UIC. We look forward to the day when this scourge, along with its companion, obesity, is brought under control.”

Mazzone said UIC’s “multifaceted approach” includes expert clinical care, screening programs and research aimed at treating the disease, preventing complications and finding ways to help patients better manage their diabetes.

The conference’s morning session will focus on biomedical advances in “diabesity” treatment and prevention. It will be moderated by Mazzone with panelists from Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan.

To have the greatest impact on public health, new ways are needed to help people control their weight, Mazzone said.

Promising interventions include drugs that regulate appetite and food intake, now in clinical trials, and bariatric surgery for certain patients.

José Oberholzer, director of cell and pancreas transplantation and chief of transplantation at UIC, will speak about the Chicago Diabetes Project.

The project is a collaboration of international scientists working together to achieve a functional cure for diabetes through islet cell transplantation. Their goal is to find an unlimited source of insulin-producing cells and protect them with microencapsulation to avoid the long-term risks of immunosuppressant drugs.

UIC is one of only a few centers worldwide able to achieve reproducible and consistent insulin independence in severe type 1 diabetes patients.

While advances in treating obesity and diabetes are promising, prevention and health policy also play an important role.

But experts agree there is no one simple solution.

“I think the field is coming to see that there needs to be far more of a coordinated effort to address the obesity epidemic,” said Marian Fitzgibbon, professor of medicine and health policy administration and deputy director of UIC’s Institute for Health and Research Policy.

Understanding the role of families, social networks, communities, schools, worksites and government policies must be part of a comprehensive approach, said Fitzgibbon, who will moderate the afternoon conference session.

“It’s not as simple as energy in, energy out,” she said. “There are so many factors that play into maintenance of body weight and weight gain leading to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other various health problems.”

The keynote address will be given by Jerrold Olefsky of the University of California, who will discuss genetic and basic studies of the metabolic syndrome in animal models.

The UIC Midwest Conference on Diabetes and Obesity will be held at the UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road. 

This news release was written by Sherri McGinnis González, associate director of the UIC News Bureau, for UIC News