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South Beach Diet Doctor tells Global Business Forum Participants: What Once Protected Us is Killing Us

January 14, 2011
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 Steven Ullmann, director of programs in health sector
 management and policy at the School of Business,
 greets keynote speaker Arthur Agatston, MD.

South Beach Diet creator Arthur Agatston, a preventive cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, had mostly bad news for more than 600 participants at the University of Miami’s Global Business Forum. The Forum, organized by the School of Business, focused on “The Business of Health Care: Defining the Future.”

Agatston was the keynote speaker at lunch on the third and final day of the Forum. American Heart Association President Ralph Sacco, who is a professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, gave the opening remarks at the luncheon, which took place under a tent on the Edward T. Foote University Green.

After Sacco and UM Professor of Management Steven G. Ullmann, director of the UM Center for Health Sector Management and Policy and the School of Business Administration’s programs in that field, spoke, Agatston took over the podium.

Promising to “scare” the audience, he noted that despite a decades-long decline in the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the United States, “we’re getting fatter and more diabetic.”

Worse, he added, researchers at the Mayo Clinic and elsewhere have found that Americans aged 30 to 45 have more plaque in their coronary arteries than previous generations did at those ages. “So what’s going on here? Well, the current young adult generation I would call the first fast-food generation,” Agatston said. “What these data tell us is that despite all our advances in preventing heart disease, our lifestyle is actually trumping those advances.”

Besides fatty fast-food, that lifestyle features a lack of exercise, compared to our hunter-gatherer ancestors 10,000 years ago, or even farmers and laborers of more recent times. Just a decade or two ago, more kids were playing baseball, football and basketball in their neighborhoods, Agatston noted. “Today, most of those sports are being played on video games and computers. And the fact is you can sit and work and shop and do everything without moving at all,” he said.


 American Heart Association President Ralph Sacco,
 delivers a luncheon  address at the Forum

At the root of the problem is a “survival mechanism” that tends to cause the body to store fat, Agatston explained. That was a good thing for the hunter-gatherers of ancient times, because a fat belly helped them survive regular feast and famine cycles. But belly fat is linked to the release of “inflammatory chemicals” that help fight infections and cuts. Too much of those chemicals can kill us, Agatston said.

“Our DNA was never planned for the belly to keep growing and growing and growing, and today where there’s no famine, there’s only feast, and the belly continues to grow, we’re literally bathing our tissues with these inflammatory chemicals,” Agatston added. Not only do these chemicals “rust” our blood vessels, but they also cause macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, and “all kinds of cancers,” he said.

Agatston’s only good news was that there is widespread agreement on the now-familiar remedy: more fruits and vegetables, fish, “good” fat and exercise.

The three-day Global Business Forum featured some of the world’s most prominent health care industry thought leaders. In addition to the keynote addresses, the Forum included more than 30 panel sessions organized in six tracks, including economics and health care, aging, innovation, wellness and prevention, global health issues and hospital design, technology and delivery systems of the future.

The Forum's key sponsors included BlueCross BlueShield of Florida and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. You can look back through the Forum conversation by searching hash tag #GBF2011 on Twitter. Additional updates are also be posted here on the School of Business website. You can also view more photos of the Forum on Facebook.

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