George Blackburn: Father of Obesity and Nutrition Medicine
We feel the world diminished by the loss of a very fine man this week. George Blackburn, MD, PhD, died on Tuesday at his home in Boston. President-elect Caroline Apovian of the Obesity Society explains:
My friend and mentor George Blackburn was truly the father of nutrition and obesity medicine. He is someone who supported and encouraged me and countless other colleagues and friends to do their very best work. His energy and enthusiasm were incredible. He was a great man whom I and many, many others will deeply miss.
Upon the news of his passing, Professor Barbara Corkey wrote:
Dear George, you have changed and improved the entire field of obesity research and supported so many of us as we ventured into your field. I doubt that you made any enemies, and if you did they’re mine too. But your myriad friends will miss you sorely.
Dr. Blackburn served as the S. Daniel Abraham Associate Professor of Nutrition and Associate Director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School. He was also Chief of the Nutrition/Metabolism Laboratory, and Director of the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine. Both units are affiliated with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was a tireless innovator and visionary. He made countless contributions in the fields of nutrition medicine, hyperalimentation, weight loss, and obesity surgery.
Sue Cummings, a dietitian and clinical coordinator at MGH, reminded us that among his many honors, he was an honorary member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
This is hard to believe. I actually thought he was immortal. He was such a huge supporter of dietitians.
More than 30 years ago – long before the specialty of obesity medicine existed – he founded what has become Harvard’s Blackburn Course in Obesity Medicine. Thousands of physicians have learned both fundamental and cutting edge concepts of obesity care from this educational forum. Lee Kaplan, now director of the Blackburn Course, told us:
Nearly 20 years ago, when I first became aware of the exciting science behind obesity and its implications for clinical care, George was already a luminary. Through his guidance, support and insight, he brought me along, encouraged creative and independent thought, and allowed me to ski in his wake. As a colleague, he has been provocative, unselfish, reliably supportive of everyone with whom he has worked – a good friend and a true mensch!
George lived and worked at the cutting edge: he was one of the first surgeons to focus on the broader implications and mechanisms of obesity itself, one of the first to explore the metabolic effects of food, a leader in the search for appropriate and effective standards for medical and surgical treatment of obesity, and ultimately, one of the most effective teachers and recruiters to the emerging field of obesity medicine.
His influence will live on for many decades – through the work of his dozens of trainees, through his landmark Obesity Medicine course, and through the enthusiastic involvement of two generations of clinicians and investigators whose interest has been sparked by George’s enthusiasm, curiosity and commitment to solving one of medicine’s greatest challenges.
Dr. Blackburn was an extraordinary man of great generosity and goodwill who lived out his calling:
“Leave the world better off than when you received it, and learn everything you can.”
You can read his obituary here.
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February 22, 2017