Rush Receives $9 Million Grant to Reverse Metabolic Syndrome

CHICAGO - After a successful, two-year pilot project that helped patients reverse their metabolic syndrome with lifestyle changes, Rush University Medical Center has been awarded a $9 million grant by the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund to expand a Rush program called Eat, Love, Move (ELM) to five cities.

The ELM program will continue at Rush and be extended to Rochester, New York; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Kansas City, Missouri; and Denver, Colorado for six years.

Metabolic syndrome, which affects one-third (or 86 million) of adults in the United States, is a cluster of conditions — including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together. This cluster increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

If someone is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.

Expansion will recruit 600 participants, seek reversal of metabolic syndrome

To evaluate the ELM program at a national level, five partner sites will recruit a total of 600 participants with metabolic syndrome and randomly assign them to the program or to an enhanced standard of care.

The partner sites are the Obesity Institute at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, University of Colorado Denver, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition at Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rush University Prevention Center.

The clinical trial will determine whether the ELM program can be scaled up, produce a sustained two-year reversal of metabolic syndrome, improve quality of life and be a cost-effective investment for the health care system.

ELM uses science of behavioral change to instill healthy new habits

“Following the Rush University Medical Center pilot, which resulted in over 50 percent of patients remaining in remission after two and a half years, we were eager to expand the initiative to all McGowan communities and beyond,” said Diana Spencer, the McGowan Fund’s executive director. “We believe that healthy lifestyle and prevention are key in addressing the nation’s health care crisis, and we are inspired by the people who have learned how much control they often have over their health outcomes.”

The ELM research study was created by Lynda Powell, PhD, chairperson of Rush Medical College’s Department of Preventive Medicine, who led a multidisciplinary team of practitioners at Rush.

“ELM is a unique lifestyle intervention aimed at simultaneously improving diet, physical activity and stress management. Its goal is to produce a sustained change in lifestyle and, as such, a sustained remission of metabolic syndrome and reduction in risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Powell said. “During the pilot study, participants met weekly over six months for exercise and nutritional counseling. They prepared and ate meals together in a relaxed, supportive setting. The program is steeped in the science of behavioral change aimed to translating initial changes into new, automatic habits.”

ELM goals: make vegetables half of lunch and dinner, walk 10,000 steps a day

The pilot project achieved sustained remission of metabolic syndrome in 54 percent of patients after two and a half years. It encouraged them to make vegetables half of their lunch and dinner meals. It also helped them recognize the difference between eating in response to hunger and emotional eating in response to feeling angry, lonely, tired, or bored.

Physical activity was another treatment component. The program helped patients think of physical activity as something to enjoy as opposed to work; it encouraged moderate to vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes on most days, and it encouraged them to strive for walking at least 10,000 steps a day.

Stress was reduced by encouraging mindful, nonjudgmental attention to bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions while exercising, preparing food, eating, and managing stressors. It also encouraged a pause between the occurrence of a stressor and one’s reaction to it.

ELM is ‘a game changes for patients with metabolic syndrome’

Metabolic syndrome, is diagnosed when three out of its five risk factors are present. Each of these conditions is treated with separate medications, which manage symptoms but do not reverse the fundamental cause, which is rooted in lifestyle. Less than 50 percent of patients take their prescribed medications, which makes this lifestyle intervention an attractive option.

Metabolic syndrome increases total health care costs by 60 percent because it quintuples the risk of diabetes, doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease, and is considered the first stage of heart failure.

“We are proud of the Rush team’s work and believe this initiative to be a game changer for patients with metabolic syndrome. We also hope that this project can set the stage for health insurance companies to support this holistic intervention as a feasible course of care,” said William P. McGowan, board chair of the McGowan Fund.

“We are excited to see the ELM program expanding to four other sites across the United States,” Powell said. “Patients are exposed to a wide variety of lifestyle programs to improve their health, but very few are backed up by evidence to support their effectiveness. The importance of this trial is that it seeks the type of high-quality evidence required for inclusion in medical practice guidelines and third-party reimbursement.”

About the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund

The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund supports programs that empower families to choose healthy produce and protein and provide these healthy options; programs that engage families in nutrition education, meal preparation, and/or physical activity; clinical research or programs that provide intensive lifestyle management and behavioral health strategies; and free clinics providing primary care, education, and specialty care resources.

About Rush

Rush is an academic health system whose mission is to improve the health of the patients and the diverse communities it serves with nationally recognized health care, education, research and a commitment to community partnerships. The Rush system comprises Rush University Medical Center, Rush University, Rush Copley Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, as well as numerous outpatient care facilities. Rush University, with more than 2,500 students, is a health sciences university that comprises Rush Medical College, the College of Nursing, the College of Health Sciences and the Graduate College.