Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Student Profile (MSL): Robert Lustig, M.D.

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“We’ve got the policy think tank thinking.” Dr. Robert Lustig, a UCSF pediatric endocrinologist and member of the MSL inaugural class, hopes to use his legal training to change the food industry and end the obesity pandemic.

Robert Lustig, M.D., Professor, pediatric endocrinology, UCSF

Candidate: Masters in Study of Law (MSL) 2013

Age: 55

Neighborhood: Forest Hills

Breakthrough Gig: Lustig’s 2009 lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” focused on the effects of sugar (in particular fructose) on children, and went viral on YouTube (2.8 million viewings and counting). He was featured in the New York Times Magazine in “Is Sugar Toxic?” in 2011 and on 60 Minutes in 2012.

Best Soundbite: “A calorie is not a calorie.”

Latest Book: “Fat Chance” comes out in December 2012 (Hudson Street Press, New York)

Don’t Expect: To be served a soda at his home. “There’s no crap at my house.”

Secret Skill: “Unfortunately, because I am a clinician, I have to be a fast eater. I’m the master of the three-minute lunch.”

His Playlist: Civil Procedure with Beth Hillman and Torts with John Diamond. You can also find him Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the Public Health Law class with Pat Davidson. And yes, he still practices pediatric endocrinology at UCSF.

His Mission: Clean up the food industry.

“Through the work I am doing with obesity and chronic metabolic disease, it began to be clearer and clearer to me that the problem was the food supply itself. Our processed and prepared food is pumped through with unnecessary sugars, which are driving this pandemic."

Why Law? “As a doctor, I have no great affinity for lawyers. But the executive and legislative branches of our government have been co-opted by the food industry. It’s called agency capture. They can’t help us. That leaves the law. I want to start a dialogue in Washington as to what really needs to happen. Eating less and exercising more would work if a calorie was just a calorie. But it isn’t. We have different kinds of calories, and some are dangerous and literally toxic to our bodies. People want to make this about personal responsibility. It’s not. We are in a pandemic of obesity. Individual education alone is not enough. We need to start working with policy makers. You can’t expect government to do the right thing. You have to coerce it to do the right thing. That’s where lawyers come in.”

Where It Could Start: The UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy. Lustig met this summer with Professor David Faigman and 14 other UC Hastings faculty members. “We’ve got the policy think tank thinking.”

Advice: Don’t drink your calories, except for a good bottle of red wine.

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