Back to All News


January 18th, 2020

Family doctor addresses link between nutrition, preventive health

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

MERRILLVILLE — Dr. Mustafa Nakawa has a saying: “What we eat defines us.”

The problem today, he noted, is that definition is at critical condition.

“Food is more than an action. It affects our behavior,” Nakawa told the Northwest Indiana Health Disparities Council Friday at Innsbrook Country Club.

Obesity-related diseases, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes, resulted in 850,000 preventable deaths nationwide in 2017, Nakawa said.

“Clearly, we have a crisis,” said Nakawa, who specializes in family medicine at Methodist Hospitals. He added that malnutrition is an “epidemic” in the U.S.

Indiana is particularly at risk for obesity, the doctor noted. The 20% of obese Hoosiers in 2000 expanded to 34% in 2017.

Nationally, Nakawa said, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. If that trend continues, he noted, by 2030 one-half of all Americans will be obese.

This health crisis is also reflected in the economy to the tune of $190 billion nationally annually, representing 21% of national medical costs. In Indiana, the doctor said, obesity costs $8.5 billion annually.

The doctor cited a lack of education and care. In 2017, he said, this country spent $3.5 trillion on health care, 3% of that on public health and less than 5 percent of primary care.

The council reviewed the findings of Methodist Hospitals’ community health needs assessment. Among the key needs is access to affordable food. During a Q&A session, audience members, including physicians, cited healthy diet challenges due to finances, transportation access, location, and work schedules.

Food can be a medicine, Nakawa said, as it can cause diabetes, hypertension, and obstructive sleep apnea. Food and exercise are key, he added, and the simpler — as in non-processed — food, the better.

There are also social determinants as to what people eat, Nakawa said, and that includes location.

“Weight is determined by the ZIP code, not genetic code,” he said. “Patterns of diet and physical activity are driven in large part by the environment in which we live, work, learn and play.”

Obesity is particularly an issue in the black and Hispanic communities, Nakawa said. Black women, he said, have the highest rate of obesity in the U.S. at nearly 59%.

To address this weighty problem, Nakawa suggested a multidisciplinary approach involving nutritionists, behavioralists, and psychologists. He also called for developing a role model for communities to follow regarding healthy food choices.

On a national level, Americans need to address federal policies that make “healthy choices easier choices.” That includes enabling those on federal programs, including Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program recipients, to make healthy choices and opposing foods that are not healthy.

Related Posts

Live GLC Dinner Theatre performance returns

Courtesy of Gary 411 • Written by The 411 News Gary Literacy Coalition presents “King’s Ransom” Fundraiser The Gary Literacy Coalition, Inc. (GLC) is proud to announce the return of its […]

State honors Franciscan Health and Methodist Hospitals for infant and maternal care

Courtesy of The Times • Written by Joseph S. Pete The Indiana Hospital Association recognized Franciscan Health hospitals in Crown Point and Michigan City and Methodist Hospitals in Merrillville and […]

National Guard members provide relief for weary Methodist staffs in continuing COVID-19 fight

Courtesy of Post-Tribune • Written by Michelle L. Quinn Raquel Prendkowski doesn’t want to think of herself as “greedy,” but when it comes to bringing in the troops to give her […]

Pink Ribbon Society serving cancer patients across the Region

Courtesy of The Times • Written by Deborah Laverty Linda Watterson’s oncologist told her she should be the “poster child” on the importance of getting a mammogram. Watterson, 70, of […]

Need Further Assistance?

Refer to our Contact page for location specific contact information and answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Contact Us


Manage appointments, get test results and more with MyChart.

Learn More

Find a Doctor

Let us connect you with the doctors you are looking for.

Find a Doctor

Pay My Bill

View and pay your bill; get help understanding insurance and obtaining financial assistance.

Insurance & Financial Info