Pitt hopes that by creating an institute devoted to healthy lifestyles it can educate health-care professionals to help solve an age-old puzzle: how to modify behavior and inspire patients to adopt healthful lifestyle practices.
By David Templeton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Patients facing the risk of chronic disease often leave the doctor’s office with advice to quit smoking, eat healthier food and exercise.
But such boilerplate advice often is dismissed, acknowledged but put on hold, or attempted and then abandoned, as the person’s heart disease, diabetes or cancer worsens.
“Simply telling them to improve their lifestyle usually won’t alter behavior,” said John M. Jakicic, chairman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Department of Health and Physical Activity. “You have to think about factors that influence lifestyle — the person’s family, marriage, occupation, the environment and community in which the person lives, and access” to healthful resources.
Genetics and psychological factors also play a role: Does the person think exercise is fun or burdensome? Are dietary changes feasible or out of the question?
Pitt now has created the Healthy Lifestyle Institute to help solve the age-old puzzle of how health care professionals can modify behavior and inspire patients to adopt healthful lifestyle practices.
On Monday, Pitt is scheduled to announce formation of the institute that will serve as an umbrella organization to harness “the collective efforts of top researchers, clinicians and thought leaders throughout the Pitt community” to collaborate on research and strategies to generate well-being in the Pittsburgh area and beyond.
“Pitt is, in essence, marshaling its considerable and dynamic resources toward helping Americans live healthier and happier lives,” said Mr. Jakicic, who will serve as the institute’s founding director. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology.
The institute, he said, will be housed within the school of education, with staff members coordinating research involving different divisions and departments. The institute also plans to develop strategies for better methods to modify behavior and understand more precisely how lifestyle factors impact health.
Ultimately the institute’s goal is creation of community programs that have a local and national impact on health and wellness.
“The institute also will focus on how best to train health care professionals to use such tools to help patients pursue healthier lifestyles,” Mr. Jakicic said in a statement. “Not only will the institute seek input from various departments but also nonprofit organizations and public schools through southwestern Pennsylvania.”
One hypothetical, he said involves a physician telling the patient to become more physically active.
“Why doesn’t the physician ask, ‘What’s getting in the way of your activity right now?’ ” he said. “You ask people what the barriers are, and target the message better.”
A better approach, he said, would be to ask, “If you have three kids to deal with in the morning, and you have to work all day, why not try this strategy?”
Most people want to make changes, he said.
“Twenty years ago, I did a study that asked people to take either a 10-minute, or a 30-minute walk,” he said. “When you say 30 minutes, that’s hard to do. But if you say 10 minutes, they did it and started walking 15 to 17 minutes. It was a little step leading to a bigger outcome.”
The institute’s ultimate mission?
“How can the work that Pitt does on a national scale begin to impact the very important way that people live in their community?” Mr. Jakicic said.
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