Disease Prevention Gets Lifestyle Focus

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Orlando Health has partnered with the University of Central Florida to create a "lifestyle medicine" department that focuses on disease prevention.

The goal is to give patients detailed, science-based guidance on eating, exercise and other behaviors that affect health. The program is being led by Dr. James M. Rippe, an internist and cardiologist who researches and writes extensively on the topic.

Disease prevention has proven effective and very important, because preventing is much easier than curing.

Rippe said doctors must do more to help people avoid diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other ailments. Sure, everyone knows that cigarette smoking is harmful and that exercise is good for the body. But it's often hard to put knowledge into practice.

"It's not enough to just tell someone to stop smoking or to lose weight," said Rippe, chairman of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at UCF, where he conducts some of his research. "You have to print out for them a 12-week walking program or a balanced, 1,500-calorie [-a-day] diet."


Orlando Health, one of the area's largest hospital chains, runs a residency program that includes internal medicine doctors. Rippe plans to teach young physicians how to make lifestyle medicine a regular part of patient care.

Dr. Jay Falk, vice president of medical education for Orlando Health, said doctors must take advantage of "teachable moments" that arise in hospitals.

"There is this moment when the patient is in the hospital because he's had a small heart attack, and he hasn't paid much attention to his weight or blood pressure before, but now it's sort of a wake-up call," Falk said. "There's this opportunity [to talk about diet and exercise] that we may not be availing ourselves of."

Harvard-trained Rippe, 61, is known nationally as a leader in the field. In addition to his work at UCF, he does research at his private facility in Celebration called the Rippe Lifestyle Research Institute. The physician also operates a clinic that conducts "executive-health exams" for people who want an intense checkup and evaluation.

Formerly with Florida Hospital, Rippe said he left his clinic there to become more involved in research and academic pursuits. He has a professorship at UCF and has contributed to more than 250 published articles on diet, exercise and related topics.

Rippe said Orlando Health is the first U.S. hospital chain to create a lifestyle medicine department. He hopes it sends a clear message that people must take control of their health.

"Very few people are doing everything they can to be lowering their risk of disease," Rippe said. "We need to form partnerships with our patients and focus on how we can prevent illness."


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