Food & Fitness After 50: Coffee with Ted Kyle of ConscienHealth

Meeting Ted in Budapest

I have coffee every morning with Ted Kyle, founder of ConscienHealth. Not literally, but his thoughtful commentary arrives in my email box every morning and I read it as I sip my morning coffee. Seven days a week, Ted produces an insightful commentary on issues surrounding obesity. His goal is to provide sound science to health professionals and consumers to foster solutions to obesity prevention, care, and research. He started ConscienHealth in 2009 and his influential work now reaches more than 20,000 readers around the world.

I’ve admired Ted for his passion, dedication, and commitment to contributing to solving complex problems. After hearing him speak at a conference earlier this year, I examined some my biases about obesity and wrote about it for this blog (click here for the post). It is one of my most shared posts so it must resonate with many people. I wanted to learn more about Ted’s journey to becoming a tireless advocate for obesity and health and gain some personal insights into how he eats well, moves well, and stays well.

Question: I know you as a respected obesity expert and founder of ConscienHealth. Before that you were a registered pharmacist and then worked in the pharmaceutical industry. How did you start on that path and how did you end up developing ConscienHealth?

Ted explained, “in high school I had a part-time job in my hometown pharmacy, and I enjoyed both the science of pharmacy and the interactions with a variety of customers. I also enjoyed creative pursuits, like photography, but a degree in pharmacy seemed a viable profession to earn a living and to help people along the way.” He pursued a 5-year program in pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and found time to take some courses to feed his creative side. Journalism and photography classes led him to writing and editing college publications and he landed an internship at Eli Lily in marketing. “My internship combined my love of science with communications and as soon as I graduated with my degree in pharmacy, I decided an MBA would help further my career.”

He landed his first job with a large health care company doing market research. “It allowed me learn about new product development and introduced me some giants in medicine.” One of those giants was Trudy Elion , a pioneering female scientist who developed breakthrough drugs for leukemia, for organ transplant rejection, and for viral infections. Elion earned the Nobel Prize for her work in drug development in 1988.

As his career continued, Ted ended up in Pittsburgh, working on drug development as well as rapid, convenient testing for HIV. One of the drugs he worked on was Orlistat, a medicine to augment diet and lifestyle changes for obesity. It was at that time that his passion for empowering people living with obesity was born. “I interviewed hundreds of people living with obesity and learned a lot about the stigma and bias they face. Through a lifetime of living with a chronic disease, one that involved both biology and behavior, all they ever heard was it was all their fault. I met people who were deeply grateful to have someone listen to them and try to understand their experiences. Hearing the stories of the burdens people face was a deeply moving experience.” Around this time, public health experts recognized what came to be called an obesity epidemic, but Ted found that “the public talked of concern about obesity but mostly just blamed the people affected. Well-intended public health messages were actually counterproductive, and it was then I decided to do something different.”

Question: How did you grow ConscienHealth into the “go to” place for experts around the world?

“It started slow, but I knew that an online presence was needed. Initially, I designed a rather crude website, but then hired a pro to design a simple, easy to navigate website to house our content. I work with a group of people committed to a scientific approach to improve our understanding of obesity and to breaking through the weight bias that exists in us all. I came to understand the science, not just the physiology, but also the behavioral and psychological aspect of living with obesity. Stigma is real and it makes health outcomes worse.”

“Recently, I’ve been writing more about the effects of obesity on COVID-19 outcomes. A European colleague in Italy reached out to me and said there was something going on with obesity and poorer outcomes in those who were infected with the virus. So, I did a lot of digging as more and more compelling data emerged. I have been able to participate in an exchange of knowledge about the interaction between obesity and COVID-19. It’s been quite a journey.” (Click here to read Ted’s post from March of this year.)

Question: Shifting gears here, but you care for many others, what do you do to care for yourself? You are now in your 60s, how do you stay well? How do you eat well, move well, and be well?

“I credit my wife for her smart approach to eating well. We eat what we think is a healthful diet. I have oatmeal and fruit at breakfast, big salads loaded with all kinds of summer veggies, and grilled protein foods for dinner. During the pandemic, grilling fish has become more of a mainstay for us.

For activity, we walk every day. I used to log between 6,000 to 10,000 steps a day but during the pandemic I’ve almost doubled that to 12,000 to 18,000 steps. I love being outdoors so walking and biking are my favorite ways to keep moving.”

As for staying well, Ted has his family, friends, and colleagues for social support, but he admits his biggest challenge is sleep, or lack of it. “There is just so much to do that I find it hard to get 8 hours of sleep. I get up about 3 am each day so I can write my commentary for ConscienHealth to get it online by 6 am.” (And, just in time for my morning coffee!)

Question: What 3 tips or advice would you give to others to eat well, move well, and be well?

“The first is to stay curious about everything. Whether it is people, nutrition, health….just stay curious.. Second, be objective about what is known. For me, the essence of communication about science requires sophisticated and ethical messages that are engaging and approachable. This is what I try to do every day with my commentary. The third piece of advice is to care for the needs of the others around you.”

I think we can all agree with his good advice! And, if you are not following ConscienHealth…do so!

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved