Philadelphia residents will soon be able to monitor their weight loss and get feedback about their progress online from several area churches, which are being equipped with computer stations and trained program counselors.
This community-based weight loss program is part of a four-year study of the prevention and treatment of obesity in high-risk populations led by Temple University School of Medicine, which recently received one of five grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The research team, led by Temple diabetes expert Guenther Boden, M.D., plans to use the $4.15 million to test whether an Internet-based telemedicine system can help overweight and obese African Americans in the nearby community lose weight.
"Sixty percent of Pennsylvanians are overweight or obese, but what is of even greater concern is that urban, rural and minority populations are disproportionately affected by obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoarthritis," said Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Calvin Johnson.
For this study, Temple will partner with several African-American churches in North Philadelphia. These churches will act as computer sites where participants can access the study's Web site to update their weight loss progress as well as to access the site's moderated chat rooms, bulletin boards and e-mail.
Furthermore, members of the research team will teach individual church members how to provide counsel to study participants during the program and after it ends.
"Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges with weight loss," says Boden, professor of medicine and chief of endocrinology at Temple's School of Medicine and Hospital. "Our system will not only provide an inexpensive way to interact with patients, but also leave an active program in place for the community that will continue once the study is complete."
Temple also will collaborate with area universities and medical centers during the study. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania will conduct a survey of local neighborhoods, restaurants and supermarkets to identify what types of eating and exercise environments the study subjects deal with on a daily basis. This information will be incorporated into a summary for the participants that will include guidance on what to eat, the best places to shop for food and where and how to exercise.
Moreover, Bloomsburg University and Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., will conduct a similar program with people living in rural areas.
"We understand that both inner-city and rural residents face many of the same socioeconomic obstacles, such as access to treatment and healthcare coverage," said Temple's Carol Homko, Ph.D. "We hope to come away with effective weight loss models that can translate to both populations."
Other researchers on the team at Temple include William Santamore, Ph.D., director of telemedicine research; Gary D. Foster Ph.D., director of the center for obesity research and education; and Angela Makris, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor of medicine.