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A Stanford physician takes a precision health approach to living a healthier lifestyle

Nearly 70 percent of Americans ages 20 or older are overweight or obese, including Larry Chu, MD, a Stanford anesthesiologist and executive director of Medicine X.

Chu, who has struggled with his weight for over a decade, knew he was overweight but didn't think it was a serious threat to his health. This changed during a routine doctor's visit. As he explains in a podcast, Chu was shocked to learn that lab results showed he was at high risk for stroke and heart attack. He decided to take action and launch precision:me, a personal blog project chronicling the first 90 days of his journey to live a healthier lifestyle.

Why most of us try to slim down by shunning carbs, stepping up our exercise routines and secretly weighing ourselves each morning, Chu is tracking his health data using a range of gadgets and other tools and sharing the every detail of his progress publicly on his blog. He is also posting photos and podcasts.

Below Chu discusses why he choose to take this unique approach to achieve his weight-loss goals, how he hopes it will inform the broader conversation about obesity and its potential to demonstrate the value of digital tools in enhancing personal health.

What was the catalyst for precision:me?

One of the misconceptions about obesity is that it is a lifestyle disease and if people would only eat less and move more they would be fit. In my case, this is a health journey I have been struggling with since my residency training at Stanford. Using precision health tools to address obesity is a new approach that we are focusing on in precision:me. Stanford has recently announced exciting plans for precision health. I thought it was a good time to share how we at Medicine X see precision health as a novel approach that individuals and their providers can use today to tailor precise and individualized care. It is a very practical and personal dive into developing and implementing a precise plan to modify my diet and metabolic profile to forestall the development of more significant chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, using data and analytics provided through digital health tools and expert medical, nutritional and fitness collaborators.

Why did you decide to make all of your health data available online for public consumption?

It was an easy and difficult decision at the same time. There is incredible stigma associated with obesity, which we discuss on the precision:me website. Being overweight or obese is a subject that many of us find difficult to talk about. Sharing information can make it easier to start a dialogue. Advances in precision health at Stanford and around the world will depend upon patients sharing their personal health data in a secure and protected fashion with researchers. By sharing my data with the public, I hope to help everyone see what it is like to live with obesity as a condition, break down misconceptions and misperceptions about the disease, and help shine a light on the value of sharing data to help others.

Beyond improving your own health, what impact do you hope the precision:me project will have?

I make a point to stress in precision:me that it is an N-1 project. That is to say, this is my story, and what worked for me might not necessarily work for others. Obesity is a difficult disease to treat because the causes and effective treatments will be different for everyone. This is the perfect use case for precision health. The truth is that there are thousands of precision:me projects going on as I answer this question. These are individuals hacking away at their health in partnership with their physicians to treat obesity. Imagine if all of us shared our N-1 data and aggregated it together so we can begin to form a larger and more detailed picture of obesity than has ever existed before. I hope the impact of precision:me is to show people that precision health is something in which we can all participate and that complex and difficult to treat conditions such as obesity have a lot to gain when we as patients work together to share our data and our stories.

Previously: How Stanford Medicine will "develop, define and lead the field of precision health", At Big Data in Biomedicine, Stanford's Lloyd Minor focuses on precision health, Capturing the metabolic signature of obesity and Discussing how obesity and addiction share common neurochemistry
Photo by Larry Chu

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