Dr. Oz Ends Childhood Obesity—One Classroom at a Time
by lisa oz
"America's Doctor" takes a quiet moment in his office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza
Long before America learned of “Dr. Oz,” I met a young medical student training under my father who was ravenously curious about life and dashingly handsome. We dated and married, and I watched Mehmet Oz grow into one of the world’s most renowned surgeons. He invented mechanical heart devices, pioneered surgical techniques, lectured all over the globe, and published papers. He was the brightest among the world’s best. The exemplary healer, he operated on the most important people in the world as well as the most marginalized. But our conversations at home were different.
After long days of multiple surgeries, he would come home dejected, and we would talk for hours after we put the kids to sleep. He would say that no matter how many chests he opened, ultimately the disease that plagues our culture would never retract until people learned how to eat and live. I could see this restless yearning tore at him, and I knew that no matter what heights he reached as a surgeon, it would never be fulfilled in the operating room alone.
One night when my husband was particularly discouraged, he looked at me and asked, “How do we get people to eat and live correctly?” I don’t know what was so pivotal about that moment, but I had an epiphany—the kind when words just come out of your mouth and you don’t know where they came from. “Teach them,” I said.
It was apparent to me that if I just nudged him a bit, his skills as a professor of surgery at Columbia would be directly transferable to my background in broadcasting. He trusted me enough to show up for our first television project on Discovery Health, called Second Opinion with Dr. Oz, which we created to teach a lifestyle of prevention. We knew we needed a big guest for the show to attract an audience, and I think we were both surprised when we booked Oprah Winfrey as an interview. But I wasn’t the least bit surprised when she asked him to appear on her show afterwards. With his return appearances over the next five years, Mehmet became America’s Doctor and sharpened his skills as a listener, interviewer, and journalist. This culminated in The Dr. Oz Show, his daily talk show that is now his ultimate teaching opportunity.
As we were raising our four children, I knew that most kids didn’t grow up in homes where heart disease and vitamins were discussed each night at the dinner table. Far from it—most kids had no awareness of their bodies’ nutritional needs, the role of fitness, and other basics that maintain self-esteem and nurture resilience. This was as troubling to me as the patients Mehmet lamented about in private. We cofounded HealthCorps, a nonprofit that is building a wellness movement using a proven peer-mentoring model in high schools.
At the heart of HealthCorps is the coordinator, a recent college graduate who delays medical school or graduate health studies to serve as a full-time mentor for two years at a public high school. Coordinators conduct approximately 12 classes a week and lead after-school and community programs. Today, the HealthCorps program is established in 53 schools in 13 states, including 15 New York City high schools in four boroughs. During the 2011–12 school year, we expect to impact at least 32,400 students and an additional 64,800 friends, family members, and residents with our messaging.
Mehmet and I are very proud to relay that HealthCorps is turning around the lives of some students who were truant, poorly disciplined, or simply uninterested in academics. We’re achieving these breakthroughs by building a new educational paradigm for wellness and getting to the underbelly of the obesity crisis by unearthing what Americans are really hungry for and why. Most importantly, we’re providing youth with responsibility—for their health, their talents, and their communities. We view these accomplishments as positive catalysts for families, who now have new doors open to their children. All it takes is one passionate mentor to transform a young life for the better.
photography by sari goodfriend (opener); SONY PICTURES TELEVISION/BARBARA NITKE