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William G. McGowan Charitable Fund Invests in Reversing Metabolic Syndrome Through Six-Year, $9 Million Grant to Rush University Medical Center

(CHICAGO)—After a successful, two-year pilot project that helped patients reverse their metabolic syndrome with lifestyle changes, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund is expanding the Eat, Love, Move program to five cities through a six-year clinical trial, totaling $9 million in grants to Rush University Medical Center.

The Eat, Love, Move program, will continue at Rush in Chicago and be extended to Rochester, N.Y., Scranton, Pa., Kansas City, Mo., and Denver, Co., for six years.

To evaluate this program at a national level, the five partner sites will recruit a total of 600 participants with metabolic syndrome and randomize them to the program or an enhanced standard of care.

The partners are University of Colorado Denver; University of Missouri-Kansas City; the Obesity Institute at Geisinger Health System; Wegmans School of Health & Nutrition at Rochester Institute of Technology; and the Rush University Prevention Center.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, which include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels that occur together. This cluster increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

If diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.

The clinical trial will determine whether this lifestyle program can be scaled up, produce a sustained two-year reversal of metabolic syndrome, improve quality of life, and be a cost-effective investment for the healthcare system.

“Following the Rush University Medical Center pilot, which resulted in over 50 percent of patients remaining in remission after two and a half years, we were eager to expand the initiative to all McGowan communities and beyond,” said Diana Spencer, the Fund’s executive director. “We believe that healthy lifestyle and prevention are key in addressing the nation’s healthcare crisis, and we are inspired by the people who have learned how much control they often have over their health outcomes.”

The Eat, Love, Move research study was created by Lynda Powell, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Rush University Medical Center, who led a multidisciplinary team of practitioners at Rush.

“Eat, Love, Move is a unique lifestyle intervention aimed at improving simultaneously diet, physical activity and stress management. Its goal is to produce a sustained change in lifestyle and, as such, a sustained remission of metabolic syndrome and reduction in risk of diabetes and heart disease,” said Powell. “During the pilot study, participants met weekly over six months for exercise and nutritional counseling. They prepared and ate meals together in a relaxed, supportive setting. The program is steeped in the science of behavioral change aimed to translating initial changes into new, automatic habits.”

The pilot project achieved sustained remission in 54 percent of patients after two and a half years. It encouraged them to make vegetables half of their lunch and dinner meals. It also helped them recognize the difference between eating in response to hunger and emotional eating in response to feeling angry, lonely, tired, or bored.

Physical activity was another treatment component. The program helped patients think of physical activity as something to enjoy as opposed to work; it encouraged moderate to vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes on most days, and it encouraged them to strive for 10,000 steps/day.

Stress was reduced by encouraging mindful, non-judgmental attention to bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions while exercising, preparing food, eating, and managing stressors. It also encouraged a pause between the occurrence of a stressor and one’s reaction to it.

Metabolic syndrome, which affects one-third (or 86 million) of American adults, is diagnosed when three out of five cardiometabolic risk factors are present: abdominal obesity where fat accumulates around the waist, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and a low level of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).

Each of these conditions is treated with separate medications, which results in a 37 percent increase in healthcare costs.

These medications manage symptoms but do not reverse the fundamental cause, which is rooted in lifestyle. Less than 50 percent of patients take their prescribed medications, which makes this lifestyle intervention an attractive option.

Metabolic syndrome increases total healthcare costs by 60 percent because it quintuples the risk of diabetes, doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease, and is considered the first stage of heart failure.

“We are proud of the Rush team’s work and believe this initiative to be a game changer for patients with metabolic syndrome. We also hope that this project can set the stage for health insurance companies to support this holistic intervention as a feasible course of care,” says William P. McGowan, board chair of the McGowan Fund.

“We are excited to see the Eat, Love, Move program expanding to four other sites across the United States,” said Powell. “Patients are exposed to a wide variety of lifestyle programs to improve their health but very few are backed up by evidence to support their effectiveness. The importance of this trial is that it seeks the type of high-quality evidence required for inclusion in medical practice guidelines and third-party reimbursement.”

The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund supports programs that empower families to choose healthy produce and protein and provide these healthy options; programs that engage families in nutrition education, meal preparation and/or physical activity; clinical research or programs that provide intensive lifestyle management and behavioral health strategies; and free clinics providing primary care, education and specialty care resources.

About Rush

Rush is an academic health system whose mission is to improve the health of the patients and the diverse communities it serves with nationally recognized healthcare, education, research and a commitment to community partnerships. The Rush system comprises Rush University Medical Center, Rush University, Rush-Copley Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, as well as numerous outpatient care facilities. Rush University, with more than 2,500 students, is a health sciences university that comprises Rush Medical College, the College of Nursing, the College of Health Sciences and the Graduate College.