Die hard

Prevention team takes on risk reduction


Getting sick enough to land in the hospital should jolt people into changing their health behaviors. But John Farquhar, MD, a professor emeritus of medicine who came to Stanford in 1962, noticed back then that many of his overweight, diabetic patients easily slipped back into their old habits after discharge. He wanted to change that, and his efforts have since grown into a highly regarded research and education enterprise aimed at helping people reduce their risks for chronic disease and death.

The Stanford Prevention Research Center traces its roots to a program Farquhar formed in 1971 to develop effective methods for helping people lower their risks for heart disease. Over the years, its investigators have also explored ways to control and prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancers related to smoking and diet.

Much of the center’s research has focused on nutrition, exercise, tobacco use, stress and the social and economic factors that affect health. In addition, the center operates the Health Improvement Program for Stanford faculty and employees and has developed a variety of educational and health-promotion materials for individuals and groups.

Among the center’s top achievements are its pioneering efforts to:

  • Establish the links between exercise, nutrition and improved cholesterol levels in preventing heart disease.
  • Test the effectiveness of nicotine replacement in treating nicotine addiction.
  • Develop school-based programs about heart disease and childhood obesity.
  • Test methods for preventing eating disorders and obesity in adolescents.
  • Examine the influence of social and cultural factors on health.

Today, the Stanford Prevention Research Center is headed by Stephen Fortmann, MD, the C.F. Rehnborg Professor in Disease Prevention, and includes more than 15 investigators. With chronic diseases accounting for more than 70 percent of the deaths in the United States and skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, the need for the center’s expertise has never been greater.

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