Perman and Phillips made the announcement at the opening of a two-day Summit on Childhood Obesity at the Hilton Baltimore, sponsored by the University of Maryland in Baltimore in partnership with DHMH.
"Childhood obesity is a totally preventable disease if we're clever enough and motivated enough to work as a society to stop it," said Perman. But unlike the diseases Perman was trained to treat in the 1970s, which often could be fairly easily prevented, there is no simple cure for childhood obesity, no vaccine like there was for polio, for instance. Childhood obesity finds its roots in behavior, the environment, disparities in access to health care, and even genetics, Perman explained. "The complexity of this crisis is best addressed by the interprofessional expertise at the University of Maryland, along with health and education professionals around the state."
Speaking at a news conference that opened the summit, Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown, chair of Maryland's Health Quality and Cost Council, said, "Governor O'Malley and I are committed to making Maryland the healthiest state in the nation, and by focusing on strategies for wellness and prevention, especially for children, we can improve the health of all Marylanders while simultaneously cutting costs. The institute will prove to be an essential tool for supplying our local health departments with the necessary information and resources to help young Marylanders and families in their communities adopt healthier lifestyles."
Perman and Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, secretary of DHMH, are the co-chairs of the institute's advisory board, which is in the process of being formed. The board - consisting of leaders from academia, public health, public education, and community organizations - will be supported by an executive director and will address policy, program and quality assurance needs of community partners.
"The institute will bring energy and expertise from across the University of Maryland to bear on some of our state's toughest public health challenges," Sharfstein said prior to the conference. "Individuals, families, and communities across the state will benefit."
The institute also will coordinate the "Healthiest Maryland Advocacy Network," an initiative that will support collaborations and community coalitions as they shape public policy.
"The network is a vital component of the Institute for a Healthiest Maryland," said Phillips. "The local coalitions will work through the Department's new State Health Improvement Process [SHIP] to affect statewide public policy changes."
The Summit on Childhood Obesity grew out of a collective recognition that obesity among youth is one of our nation's greatest public health concerns, said Perman. Obese children frequently become obese adults, and are often destined to live with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or high blood pressure. They are often sicker than their peers, are more susceptible to bullying and depression, and miss more school.
"Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this country, with one in three children being overweight and at risk for serious diseases like diabetes," Maryland Senator Ben Cardin said prior to the conference. "America's children - and our nation's future - depend on strong, healthy citizens. The University of Maryland's Summit on Childhood Obesity provides an opportunity for health care and policy experts to come together to help tackle the problem of childhood obesity and promote lifelong healthiness in our nation's children."
The Summit brought together more than 400 experts working to understand, prevent, and defeat childhood obesity to discuss best practices and policies and to forge professional relationships and coordination.