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How Dr. Nick’s cancer diagnosis spurred a weight-loss movement

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MyBigFatGreekDietLast year, I met with Dr. Nick Yphantides in San Diego to discuss regional access to medical data, which led to a mention of the effectiveness of crowdsourcing his diet strategy. What emerged was this story of how he inadvertently created a flourishing social network by simply committing to a new approach to his own diet and life, and sharing it with others.

In 2001, Dr. Nick Yphantides was a 500-pound physician practicing what he calls board-certified medical hypocrisy“Here I was, constantly having to tell people do as I say not as I do,” he recalls.

Initially, being obese seemed almost an asset. He explains, “I don’t want to say I was obese on purpose, but I rationalized my obesity by having this jovial larger-than-life disposition. I was this jolly, generous-hearted, big, comfortable, 500-pound binky to my community." 

He admits making it part of his reputation and image, "When I ran for public office weighing nearly 500 pounds, my campaign slogan was ‘Big problems need big solutions. Vote for Dr. Nick the big man for the big job.’"

Now, 12 years later, Dr. Nick is known as a fit 200-pound physician, author and creator of an online social network for weight loss, Healthstewards.com.

But how did he get here?

It all started, suddenly and tragically, with a cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Nick reveals, “Everything came crashing down when, completely unrelated to my weight, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was cancer that finally connected the silos of my heart and my mind--because they were silos; you don’t need to tell me as a doctor, intellectually, that being so unfit was unhealthy for me."

He finally realized he was taking his health for granted by rationalizing his obesity, something he actually could control, as opposed to a cancer diagnosis, which he could not. This prompted him to change the things he was able to, and to commit to being personally responsible for his own health.

The first thing he did was visit baseball stadiums.

Most people would not equate visiting baseball stadiums with weight loss. Yet, Dr. Nick had always loved baseball and decided to make it part of his road trip back to health. He took his medically guided diet plan across the country, visiting all the major stadiums and shedding pounds along the way.  

Little did he know that he would bring legions of baseball fans with him on his personal quest. He says, “There were so many people that had an interest in my journey that I basically set up a website and started doing weekly updates and posting pictures.” Dr. Nick rapidly gained thousands of followers.

As the world watched, it made him even more committed to his goal. He continues, “I was responsible to the community, and what I received was support and encouragement that facilitated my transformation."

Then came the book. 

Dr. Nick published My Big Fat Greek Diet, and with that, his online community exploded into the bonafide social network Healthstewards.com

“That’s really how the whole thing started,” says Dr. Nick. “It wasn’t premeditated. I didn't say, ‘Oh, I want to start an online social network for weight loss.' It came as a result of people emailing me and asking for help and saying ‘Dr. Nick, how do I get support, encouragement and accountability in my life?’”

He brings these lessons to his medical practice and tells people, "When you come see Dr. Nick, you never get a finger waving in your face." He's not only being human but gracious because, according to him, he hasn't always been in the position to have a white-lab-coat superiority complex.

He concludes, "I personally wish that we in healthcare would be willing to be more genuine with our patients. I don’t want to be a healer as much as I want to be an activator.”

#Project Announcement: UCLA Center for World Health

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Lybba is pleased to be collaborating with the UCLA Center for World Health, to spread the word about their important work. We’re helping them effectively communicate the essence of their organization and create a plan for their website.

A joint effort of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Health System, the Center for World Health’s mission is to improve the health of people and communities throughout the world through education, research, and service. 

We look forward to working with the faculty and staff, to convey their vision of making UCLA a recognized global leader in health education and research, with solid international partnerships and a reputation for excellence in improving the health of the world’s people.

Check back for project updates. 

Foster Care Counts celebrates Mother’s Day 2013

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Lybba was pleased to work with Foster Care Counts recently on the identity of their unique nonprofit. Founded by Jeanne Pritzker, Foster Care Counts is dedicated to co-creating vital programs with its partners to improve the lives of foster youth and their families.

One of the organization's marquee events is Foster Mother's Day, a celebration now in its fifth year. This Sunday, May 12, foster youth and families will be honored with a day filled with food, fun, relaxation and pampering at a private home in Topanga

All activities are made possible by a team of dedicated volunteers from Foster Care Counts and foster youth advocates, including cast members of ABC Family's new series, The Fostersabout a family of foster and biological children raised by two moms.

Foster Care Counts believes it's important to celebrate the parents, and grandparents, who are helping to raise foster youth. The event acknowledges the many contributions of youth, made possible through their resilience and the support of a caring community. 

"There are more than 35,000 foster youth in Los Angeles County," said founder Jeanne Pritzker, "many who seek loving families and many who have found them. Mother's Day seems like the perfect time to shine a light on foster families for the love, kindness and support they offer and to show our appreciation." 

A 'kids' area' will have carnival games, arts and crafts, magicians, balloon artists, face painting, a petting zoo and more. Guests will spend time in a special take-home-clothing boutique, while visitors to the spa will enjoy pampering with manicures, hairstyling and makeovers. Families can have portraits taken to preserve the memories of the special day. 

May is National Foster Care Month. To learn more about how you can support foster youth and families, visit Foster Care Counts.

Happy Mother's Day weekend!

Five reasons to be optimistic about education in America

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Experts, scholars, politicians, teachers, and parents agree that America’ schools are in trouble.  A strong education, especially math and science education, has become vital preparation for participation in the new high-tech global economy.  By now all Americans realize that our high school students perform dismally in international assessments of achievement.

Reading a few of the books, articles, and speeches about K-12 education in our country can make you depressed and discouraged.  I am acutely aware of these problems and have worked for decades to confront and solve them.

Nonetheless, there is entirely too much hand-wringing going on here.  

In this country, there are programs that work. We can learn strategies for success that from those programs. More to the point, America brings some extraordinary strengths to the new international competition. These strengths are reasons for optimism about our educational future. Here are five; there are others.
 

The Best Universities in the World

While the United States has a weak elementary and secondary educational system, our higher education system of colleges and universities is the best in the world. Few universities in foreign countries can match Harvard, Cal Tech, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, Michigan, UCLA, or North Carolina, to name a few national research centers of excellence. To this day, the best and brightest students in other countries want to attend college or graduate school here. They know that advances in basic scientific research, in diverse fields from medicine to computational science to software design to psychology are more likely to be made in this country than in any other. They know they can learn about scholarly inquiry and research from world leaders.
 

Furthermore, there is wider access to a college education in the US than in most other nations. A young person seeking higher education encounters a wide and diverse menu of opportunities, including community colleges, where many students choose to begin their college education.
 

A Cultural Commitment to Education
 

A commitment to education is deeply ingrained in American culture. Historically, the Federal government has supported education, even during economic or military crises.
 

Presidents from Jefferson, who tested inventions himself in the White House, to Obama, who has made improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education a centerpiece of his administration, have used the bully pulpit of their office to promote education and research. Three presidents had served as college or university presidents (Garfield, Wilson, and Eisenhower) and two had been trained as engineers (Hoover and Carter). Consider just a few other examples of this Federal commitment to education:


*Under President Lincoln, a massive system of land grant universities was launched by the Morrill Act, in the midst of a bloody civil war.
*The Truman administration saw the founding of the National Science Foundation, which has since funded many of the world’s scientific innovations.
*President Eisenhower and the Congress passed the National Defense Education Act after Sputnik.
*President Johnson fought for passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, even while the nation was becoming bogged down in Vietnam.

A Belief in Second Chances
 

We believe in giving people a second chance—and, sometimes, a third or fourth chance. In many other nations, if you fail a test while still a child, you cannot recover. For example, Chinese high school students all take the gaokao, a college entrance examination. They experience severe stress as they prepare for this ‘make or break’ exam. A poor performance on this test means that you can kiss your career goodbye at the age of 18.>
 

In contrast, consider Jim Clark, a high school dropout from Texas who joined the Navy and was assigned to unskilled labor, mopping the ship’s decks. One officer recognized that this young failure had talent and encouraged him to take college courses. He eventually graduated and then earned a PhD in computer science.  He moved to Silicon Valley and started not one, but two hugely successful technology firms: Silicon Graphics and Netscape. He is a billionaire and is a legend among geeks. Had he lived in China, he probably would still be swabbing decks.
 

From Achievement Gap to Achievement Gallop
 

This nation and others have been plagued by achievement gaps: young men outperforming women; white students outperforming African Americans and Latinos. But we have learned to close those gaps, which were not based on differences in intelligence. Psychologist Claude Steele demonstrated the cognitive mechanism of “stereotype threat”, in which female or minority students “clutch” on tests because they know that many don’t consider them as smart as majority students—and he showed that the achievement gaps vanish when those pressures are addressed.
 

My colleagues and I have studied colleges and university programs in Louisiana and Texas where the achievement gap has been turned into an achievement gallop. For example, a Houston consortium of institutions doubled the number of African Americans and Latinos receiving bachelor degrees in STEM in five years. Across this nation, there are a growing number of elementary and secondary schools in impoverished neighborhoods, with minority student populations, that have demonstrated high achievement and sent large numbers of their graduates to college. More to the point, we have isolated the strategies that characterize such success stories, including a mission to educate all students, holding high expectations, committed mentoring, building student peer support groups oriented towards achievement, and data-driven evaluation.
 

Guide at the Side, Not Sage at the Stage
 

In recent years, we have made great progress in understanding how students learn. Increasingly the “sage on the stage”, who lectures to dutiful students taking copious notes, is being replaced, or supplemented, by the “guide at the side”, who watches and advises groups of students trying to solve problems.
 

I serve on the board of an extraordinary independent secondary school in Southern California, the Vistamar School, which has implemented a novel approach to mathematics developed at Exeter Academy. As students encounter a new topic, they are immediately given homework problems to solve—before a teacher has lectured about the topic. Then they meet in structured groups during class time, comparing proposed solutions and debating alternatives, always under the watchful eye of the teacher. Then a representative from each group presents their ideas to the entire class. Only at the end of the class session does the teacher summarize the key principles that have been articulated that day. As one student told me, “I don’t know whether I have mastered math, but, if you give me a problem, I can solve it.”

Online instruction has matured and is employed increasingly at all levels of education. The US remains a world leader in technological innovation (just think of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook) and companies offering online courses, for example, Coursera and Udacity, are the hottest properties in the Silicon Valley.  This mode of instruction crosses national boundaries (more than 150,000 students around the globe registered for an online MIT course on circuits and electronics; 7157passed). But American students likely will be the primary beneficiaries of such innovations as the Kahn Academy.

The US does not have a spotless record, even in these areas of strength.  For example, the student debt problem discourages many students from pursuing a college education and the government’s commitment to education historically included the blight of segregated schools.  

But, though imperfect, these strengths will help us reform our educational systems so that American students can compete successfully in the global marketplace.

Politicians argue about whether there are significant reserves of oil in the United States. One thing is for sure: there are vast reserves of untapped talent in this country.

David E. Drew holds the Platt Chair at the Claremont Graduate University and served for 10 years as dean of the CGU School of Educational Studies.  His most recent book, STEM the Tide:  Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in America, is published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. His website is www.davidedrew.com.

#LA2050 voting is open – vote for OPENHealth Central!

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Voting has begun on the "My LA2050" challenge. That's your opportunity to vote for Lybba's vision for how Los Angeles can be a healthier, happier place to live for its residents between now and the half-century mark. Click here to vote.

Given the geographic, economic, and social disparities in LA County, meeting the needs of our residents is a huge challenge. After all, L.A. County's healthcare systems serve more people than any other place in America. When the newly insured enter the system, experts agree they will bring with them significant health needs and social circumstances that will make it especially difficult to take full advantage of healthcare services. This population is often treated at clinics where caseloads are high, funding is minimal, and compensation is restricted to face-to-face services only. On top of that, a shortage of primary-care doctors in these communities already makes it more difficult to help patients achieve optimal health.

Fortunately, these challenges offer an opportunity to cultivate innovative solutions that enhance the healthy connections between clinics and the populations they serve, and which will forge partnerships with the power to systematically improve care for everyone in Los Angeles.

While there are many promising political, economic, and social initiatives underway to create a more equitable and effective healthcare system in the county, we cannot allow the connection between healthcare providers and their patients to be the weak link. Specifically, primary care practices are already struggling to serve people with complex chronic conditions in proactive, comprehensive, and effect ways, and if they don't have the tools to rise to the occasion, access to care will matter little.

Among the most promising advances in clinical care is the emergence of physician-led interdisciplinary "care teams" that flesh out the "medical home" approach to managing patient populations. Care teams of community-based healthcare workers complement the expertise of MDs in ways that address the physician shortage while improving care and driving down costs. These teams permit a more comprehensive approach to patient needs while boosting the number of patients a practice can manage.

But how can Los Angeles increase the effectiveness of care teams at scale, thus expanding access to high-value care as the patient population expands?

 

We believe that Lybba's OPENHealth Central is a fundamental pathway toward a healthier L.A in 2050. OPENHealth Central is a web- and mobile-based system that helps clinical care teams better manage the health needs of patients with complex and costly chronic conditions, while prompting patients to collect the kinds of information between visits that can dramatically improve their care and the system as a whole.

OPENHealth Central is an open-source software service whose purpose is to put the 'care' back into the healthcare system. It helps doctors and patients plan for visits more effectively, track experiences between visits, boost the quality of care and self-care, and provide the psychological support that comes from a rich human feedback loop. The system triggers action on the part of doctors, while also collecting data that drives evidence-based improvement in patient care, population health, and healthcare costs.

Vote for OPENHealth Central here!