The Office of Strategic Health Initiatives at AUB announced the launch of the Nutrition, Obesity, and Related Diseases (NORD) interdisciplinary program. Part of AUB’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), the new program aims to serve as a platform for the development of evidence-based and culturally-sensitive nutrition interventions targeting obesity and related diseases, with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The NORD program launch is timely, given the alarming rates of obesity and related diseases, which are major causes of morbidity and mortality in the region. These diseases are, to a large extent preventable through diet and lifestyle modifications.
Regional Knowledge Hub and Platform
The NORD program will serve as a contextualized knowledge hub, constituting a platform for multidisciplinary and engaging collaboration that aims to fill knowledge gaps related to the epidemic and advance the nutritional sciences in order to inform health communication, provide strategies, and improve public policy to prevent and manage obesity and related diseases nationally and regionally.
It will foster national and international research networks to address the role of diet and nutrition in disease prevention and management, taking into account culture, environment, and sustainable development.
Through its expertise pool from AUB’s Faculties of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS), Health Sciences (FHS), and Medicine (FM), as well as other universities in Lebanon, the program will serve as a liaison to foster public-private partnerships to promote the role of diet in the prevention and management of obesity and related diseases.
The NORD program is the third program of the Global Health Initiative (GHI) which addresses global health challenges with a focus on context and sustainable impact through interdisciplinary approaches. Two other programs under GHI are: the Conflict Medicine Program (CMP) and the Refugee Health Program (RHP). The GHI is a key component of AUB’s new Vision on Health, “Health 2025”, outlined by President Fadlo Khuri during his inauguration speech in January 2016 for AUB to serve as the regional and global reference institution for health through impactful research, engaged instructional models, excellence in patient care, and contextualized service.
The launch of the NORD program took place during the 150th anniversary celebration at FAFS. In his announcement, Dr. Shadi Saleh, Associate VP for Health Affairs, explained the vision and goals of the new program executed by world-class experts whose portfolio has already brought exposure to the program within AUB, as well as nationally, regionally, and globally.
“Our strategic goal is to position AUB as a global partner on health through GHI and other key initiatives,” said Dr. Saleh. “NORD is a foundational program within GHI that will fill a great knowledge and service gap in the region and beyond.”
Obesity and Related Diseases in the MENA Region
According to research by the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department of FAFS, the MENA region is witnessing one of the world’s highest increases in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, as well as cancer; whereby heart diseases (up by 44%), stroke (up 35%), and diabetes (up 87%) are causing more premature deaths and disability than they did in the past.
Parallel to these increasing trends in NCD prevalence in the region are surging rates of overweight and obesity; whereby, in year 2013, more than 58% of the men and more than 65% of women suffered from either overweight or obesity. Over the last 33 years, these prevalence rates followed an alarming increasing trend with the top three countries in terms of increasing prevalence of obesity among men being Qatar (44%), Kuwait (43%) and Bahrain (31%), and among women Kuwait (59%), Libya (57%) and Qatar (55%). (Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study, 2013)
Accumulating evidence shows that obesity is a common denominator for many NCDs. A high body mass index (BMI) and glucose were each responsible for about 15% of NCD deaths. High cholesterol accounted for more than 10% of the deaths (Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors for Chronic Diseases Collaboration, 2014).
The NORD program has come to tackle the challenge of limited information on nutritional status and dietary intake among many vulnerable groups of the region’s population. The lack of effective evidence-based nutrition interventions and the gap between nutritional sciences and public health policy constitute major challenges that hamper efforts to improve the nutritional status and health of populations in the region.
“The NORD program will constitute a platform for multidisciplinary collaboration to inform health communication and strategically improve public policy to prevent and manage obesity and related diseases,” FAFS Dean and Director of the NORD program, Dr. Nahla Hwalla, told us.
“An element of AUB’s GHI and Health 2025 Vision, the program will foster national and international research networks to address the role of nutrition as a main modifiable lifestyle factor to impact the health and wellbeing of the population at national and regional levels.”