Last year, during a presentation on healthy eating, Mary Cristante, R.N., caught herself slinking lower and lower in her chair. Reginald Eadie, M.D., known as the "soda pop doc" for rallying Detroiters to cut down on their consumption of sugary drinks, was telling the group about the body mass index.
"He put a graph up on the screen to show us how to calculate [BMI] and said, 'This is your height and your weight and here's where you fall,' " Cristante recalls.
At 5 feet, 2 inches and 185 pounds, Cristante, the NICU nurse manager at DMC's Sinai-Grace Hospital, landed in the "obese" category. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. "I thought 'Patients must look at me and say, 'You're telling me to eat healthy and exercise and take care of myself? You're not that way.' It made quite an impact."
Determined to be a role model for her patients, Cristante started eating healthier and exercising more. "My inspiration was Dr. Eadie," she says.
A former emergency department doctor who is now president and chief executive officer of DMC's Harper and Hutzel hospitals, Eadie has long been an anti-obesity crusader. In November 2012, he launched a 30-day "Say No to Soda Pop" campaign at Sinai-Grace Hospital. When more than 500 employees took the pledge, it caught the interest of city, county and school officials, and soon became an areawide campaign.
For his efforts, Eadie received the Crain's Detroit Business Healthcare Hero Award for Outstanding Physician Achievement in 2013. "People came out of the woodwork wanting to participate," he says. "As it got more radio, television and newspaper attention, more people wanted to partner, so they actually came to us."
It didn't stop there. Last November, Eadie led a "61-Day Challenge," calling on hospital employees and Detroit residents to give up soda pop and fried foods. "In the patient and employee population, fried food is a bad habit of ours," he says. "I know that from working in the ED and seeing what the high purchases are at the hospital cafeteria."
Eadie and his team worked with hospital vendors and cafeteria managers to make changes. They removed soda pop from the cafeteria, moved soda vending machines to a less conspicuous spot and gave employees a discount on water purchases. They also restricted the sale of fried foods to one day a week.
"There was always a chef's recommendation each day on a healthy choice to comply with the challenge," Eadie says.
Participants got a T-shirt and wristband and could track their progress online. At Sinai-Grace alone, 60 percent of 2,000 employees took the challenge. To help the hospital track compliance, employees registered online and answered questions about the food they consumed before, during and after the challenge and their weight before and after.
Eadie, who wrote a book called How to Eat and Live Longer, says that educating employees and community members about obesity prevention is an important part of his job as hospital CEO.
"In the ED, I would see heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure — a lot of the diseases outside of maybe the trauma are diet-related," he says. "Genetics plays a role, but it's a combination of your genes and your diet that determines how soon or even if a disease will come about. I asked myself, 'How can I get the attention of people as quickly as possible?' "
Eadie made a point of never asking people to give up unhealthy foods for good. "We asked them to give it up for a period of time to see how it makes them feel and whether it makes a difference," he says.
But the impact may be long-term. Since the 61-day campaign, two of nine DMC hospitals have removed their deep fryers from the cafeteria; others have modified their use of fryers. "As you can imagine, there is always going to be some resistance to change," says Eadie.
As for Cristante, she's lost 45 pounds, her high blood pressure and cholesterol are down, and she's taking half the medications that she was before.
"Everybody keeps asking me what kind of diet I'm on," she says. "It's not a diet, it's a life change in how you're eating and the choices you make."