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Losing Weight as Part of a Team

Elida Gonzalez, second from left, with l-r, Nichola Davis, MD; Lori Ciuffo, MD, and Lyndsay Cohen, MS, RD.
Elida Gonzalez before she lost 62 lb.

Elida Gonzalez is a different person today than she was just one year ago. “A year ago, I was so fat, I could hardly walk. In fact, I could hardly breathe! I have asthma and hypertension, and back then, they were both out of control,” she said.

Gonzalez’ health problems eventually landed her in the North Central Bronx Hospital Emergency Department, where doctors told her about the hospital’s Healthy Living Program. Participants in the program meet once a week for a supervised one-hour group exercise session, a check of their vital signs, and an instructional lecture on strategies for maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.

“It was the best advice I ever received,” Gonzalez said, beaming as she hopped up on a treadmill to start her workout. “I have lost 62 pounds! My asthma and blood pressure are much better too.”

In New York City, more than half of all adults are overweight or obese. Adults and children who are overweight are at increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer.

A whopping 68 percent of all Bronx residents are overweight or obese. When you couple this statistic with similarly high numbers of Bronxites who suffer from diabetes, hypertension and asthma, you know that in this borough, people face health challenges that are serious, dangerous and pervasive.

But at North Central Bronx Hospital, the good news is that this special program created five years ago by Dr. Lori Ciuffo, Dr. Nichola Davis, and dietician Gloria Bent, helps patients win the war against excess weight.

Healthy Living Program staff believes that medical management and oversight are key to helping patients achieve their goals. Participants benefit from ongoing monitoring that includes checking vital signs weekly and cardiac screening. They partake in weekly exercise sessions in a weight loss program fitness room replete with treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers. There are about two dozen participants in the group at a time, and they undertake weight loss as a team.

“We have had a lot of success working with our patients in groups,” said Dr. Ciuffo. “We find that group encouragement is a powerful motivator. When patients report a weight loss at our weekly gatherings, they get a lot of clapping, congratulating, and a small gift. It helps them to feel joy in their accomplishment, and enthusiasm to continue to lose.”

They are taught to use patient-friendly logs to record and track important information like their blood pressure, waistline measurements and body mass index (BMI), which is a way of measuring how much excess weight a person has after accounting for how tall they are. Participants have ranged from ages 18 to 75, and 427 people have participated and lost weight through the program.

HHC has programs throughout its facilities to help New Yorkers manage their weight and uses various tools to engage patients in healthy living. Recently HHC developed and tested the Healthy Heart Card with the help of a group of primary care doctors at Bellevue Hospital and Gouverneur Diagnostic & Treatment Center. The card is designed to enable the primary care team record and explain the patient’s blood pressure and BMI, and to record the patient's daily exercise. The card helps open a conversation about setting goals for healthy diet and physical activity.

The public hospital system is also part of a new, city-wide anti-obesity task force formed to help New Yorkers lose weight and stay healthy. Task force members come from 10 city agencies and are developing a variety of strategies, including increasing the use of public spaces for physical activity and urban agriculture; health and wellness programs and opportunities for City employees; reducing consumption of items linked to obesity; and increasing outreach to encourage the adoption of model employer policies around food.

“Many patients in the group have health issues like me,” Gonzalez said, “so trying to lose weight on your own can be difficult and scary. But Dr. Ciuffo and Dr. Davis have a program that encourages us, gives us a lot of good information and tips, and helps us to lose weight safely. And we have fun doing it.”

To find out more about the Healthy Living Program at North Central Bronx Hospital, call 718.519.2129.


June 2012

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