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David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP
Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center
Medical Director, Integrative Medicine Center, Griffin Hospital,
Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk, CT
Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT
Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY
"The idea that 'knowledge is power' is pure fallacy," claims
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP.
A renowned medical journalist and acclaimed public speaker, Dr.
Katz has a knack for saying things that garner attention. But he is
also an experienced internist and research director who turns to
the evidence to support his claims.
"In 1993," says Dr.Katz, "a clinical study, Actual Causes of
Death, (JAMA), concluded that tobacco use and dietary/activity
patterns, not heart disease, were the actual leading causes of
death." The study's findings about lifestyle he says were
repeatedly validated in follow-up trials, including the recent
study, Low-Risk Diet and Lifestyle Habits in the Primary Prevention
of Myocardial Infarction in Men, published in the Journal of the
American College of Cardiology (9/30/14) that found that a healthy
lifestyle could prevent four out of five coronary events in men.
"The evidence is in," says Dr. Katz, "lifestyle-things we can
modify and control-is the leading cause of heart disease and
The evidence is in, but the number of Americans suffering from
chronic disease is staggering and according to the National
Institutes of Health, more than 1 in 3 adults and more than 1 in 6
children are obese. According to Dr. Katz, knowledge-without an
effective course of action-is just more information. "We have
enough data," he maintains, "it's time for action."
Dr. Katz is a man on a mission. He wants to eradicate the risk
of chronic disease by 80% by empowering consumers and overhauling
the dietary/activity patterns in all sectors of the population. And
he wants educators, legislators, members of the medical community,
and even religious leaders to be agents of change. To say that he
is passionate about the topic of disease prevention and helping
others achieve good health would be an understatement.
Lending voice and experience to the science of
Dr. Katz has published, taught, and lectured on the subjects of
nutrition, chronic disease prevention, and weight management for
more than 20 years. Currently, he is medical director for the
Integrative Medicine Center, Griffin Hospital, Derby, CT, where he
founded one of the nation's first combined residency training
programs in Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine. He is also
Director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, a
clinical research laboratory dedicated to chronic disease
prevention; Editor-in-Chief of the journal Childhood Obesity; and
President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM).
Dr. Katz has published more than 200 scientific articles and
textbook chapters, over 1,000 newspaper articles, and authored or
co-authored 15 books to date. He speaks routinely at conferences
and meetings throughout the United States and around the world, and
has an extensive media portfolio including on-air contributor for
ABC News/Good Morning America, writer for the New York Times
syndicate, blogger/medical review board member for the Huffington
Post, health contributor to US News & World Report, and blogger
and columnist for TIME Magazine. Over the years, he has appeared on
The Today Show, 20/20, 48 HOURS, PBS, CNN, the BBC & NPR radio,
and The History Channel.
The son of an internist/cardiologist, Dr. Katz was drawn to
internal medicine because he had an insatiable appetite for
learning. "I'm a big picture person who is captivated by the
forest. It's hard for me to decide which particular tree I want to
spend time with," he quips. "And I revere medicine. I was raised
with the Calvinist principles that you work hard and contribute
something," he admits, "I wanted to do something that
Dr. Katz earned his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College,
his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine,
and his master's in Public Health from the Yale University School
of Public Health. He practiced primary care for over 15 years, and
early in his career worked part-time as an emergency physician for
six years, and served as Director of Medical Studies in Public
Health at the Yale University School of Medicine for eight
Two heads better than one
While doing his residency in internal medicine, Dr. Katz began
wondering how much of the pathology he was witnessing was
preventable. The plight of his patients he says motivated him to
found the Yale Prevention Research Center in 1998 and led him
toward integrative medicine, a field that combines conventional
Western medicine with alternative or complementary treatments, such
as herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, and yoga. It
is a field making lots of headway. In the past decade, integrative
medicine centers have opened in approximately 20% of the nation's
Dr. Katz agrees that conventional medicine currently employs
more scientific evidence than alternative medicine, but he also
believes "two heads are better than one." "In the Griffin clinic,"
says Dr. Katz, "our patients are seen jointly by a physician
trained in conventional medicine and a naturopathic physician. It
offers a broad approach and an intimate collaboration between
physicians and patients."
"Conventional medicine is great at treating acute illness," says
Dr. Katz. "but when it comes to treating chronic disease, as
internists we only do so well with it. And we're far less effective
in treating "syndromes" that don't conform to our definitions of
disease and their treatment models, or patients caught up in
degenerating spirals of illness."
He cites the example of the patient who is overweight and as a
result suffers from joint pain and sleep deprivation, which in turn
make it hard to engage in exercise. "A patient who is feeling
tired, cranky, and in pain, will often turn to food," says Dr.
Katz, "which further exacerbates the obesity, which further
exacerbates the pain and sleep deprivation, and on we go down the
"We need to reverse engineer that degenerating spiral," says
Dr.Katz. "We need to follow an evidence-based approach, but if we
can't treat patients effectively, we must ask 'what is the next
logical thing to try?' When the evidence runs thin, we should offer
options that are safe and might be effective alternatives to
Sending taste buds to rehab
If the news that lifestyle is a leading cause of death seems
bleak, the good news is that it is also the remedy. According to a
large and consistent body of evidence, what Katz calls the six
cylinders of the "lifestyle is medicine" engine are: 1) tobacco
avoidance, 2) dietary pattern, 3) physical activity, 4)
quality/quantity of sleep, 5) stress mitigation, and 6) strong
social bonds. Dr. Katz's main body of work focuses on the
dietary/activity cylinders, but his approach to healthy eating is
not about advocating a particular diet. In fact, he believes the
debate surrounding low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diets is
"Healthy eating is about choosing the best foods, the best
carbohydrates, the best fats, the best sources of protein, and
eliminating foods that have no nutritional value," says Dr.
"Americans' taste buds have been "corrupted" by the unnecessary
processing of the modern food supply," says Dr.Katz, "but that same
food supply provides really good options in every category, and if
you know which ones those are -you can rehabilitate your taste
buds." "Taste buds are malleable little fellas," he says, "they
learn to love the foods they're with." By eliminating what he calls
"stealth" sugar, i.e., sugar in foods that don't need to be sweet,
such as pasta sauce or crackers, in time, our reconditioned taste
buds start telling us when something is too sweet. Eventually, we
trade up by choice, continuously and without effort.
The perfect marriage: nutritious and
Love and food go together in the Katz family. Dr. Katz's wife
Catherine, a neuroscientist he met at Yale when she was doing
post-doctoral work, grew up in France among relatives who loved to
cook. "Catherine loved food in a different way than I did," admits
Dr. Katz, "I was committed to nutrition and was willing to eat tree
bark and gravel if it had nutritional value," he laughs, "but
Catherine was a foodie."
The two scientists found a way to marry nutrition with taste.
Over the years they collaborated on a number of books, most
recently Dr. Katz' book,
Disease Proof, and have now taken that further, providing free
access to the Katz family's favorite recipes, courtesy of
Catherine's new website, Cuisinicity.com. As the parents of
five children, they also shared a passion for developing tools,
recipes, and activities for children and developed a nutrition
training program for elementary school students and their parents
called "The Nutrition
Detectives Program." The Katz children, eager to join their
parents in their mission to help children adopt healthy eating
habits, helped produce and also perform in two music videos aimed
at older children, "Unjunk Yourself," and "Unjunk Yourself: The
Process." The third video in the series ("I'm an Animal!") is
currently in production.
The Katz children include: Rebecca (26), who attends graduate
school in journalism at Boston University; Corinda (25), a graduate
of the University of Michigan now living in NYC; Valerie (19), a
student at the University of Florida; Natalia (18), a freshman at
Elon University; and Gabriel (15), who is still at home enjoying
home-cooked meals. The family also includes three beloved canines,
Barli, Bramble and Zouzou, and Dr. Katz's horse Troubadour. Dr.
Katz works out daily in the home gym so he can pursue his
recreational activities-skiing, hiking, and equestrianism. He also
enjoys-no surprise-cooking and creative writing.
"Lifestyle is medicine, and culture is the
says Dr. Katz, who believes that healthy lifestyles must be
promoted at every level of our culture-where we live, learn, shop,
work, worship and receive medical care. A pragmatist, he also
understands that poverty, corporate profits, and a modern lifestyle
that encourages sedentary and socially isolating behaviors pose
Despite the challenges, Dr. Katz insists it is not mission
impossible and points to the research being done in the world's
Blue Zones, those areas of the world where people live the longest
and have the least chronic disease. "The health of these
populations is not attributable to superior clinical care," says
Dr. Katz, "it is attributable to lifestyle and culture."
"The academic response to any challenge is that 'we need more
data,' but what we really need," says Dr. Katz, "are practical
strategies for people. I'm an evidence-based medical guy. I've
written a medical textbook on evidence-based medicine and I run a
clinical research lab, but if my foot were to catch on fire, I
would not need a randomized clinical trial to fetch a pail of
"We don't always need more data," says Dr. Katz, "Sometimes we
just have to use what is already known and fix what is obviously
December 2014 Issue of IMpact
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