Peter Attia has dedicated his medical career to investigating the relationship between nutrition, obesity and diabetes. A surgeon who developed metabolic syndrome himself despite the fact that he ate well and exercised often, Attia realized that our understanding of these important health issues may not actually be correct. He devoted himself to using vigorous scientific inquiry to test both our assumptions and new hypotheses through the Nutrition Science Initiative, the nonprofit he co-founded in 2012. Attia also writes the blog Eating Academy, which charts his own adventures in nutrition and examines scientific evidence surrounding food, weight loss and disease risk. Overall, he hopes to convince others that sharp increases in the rates of obesity and diabetes -- despite the fact that we are more culturally aware of these problems than ever -- might be a result of people being given the wrong information.
Attia came to this calling through an unusual path. While he was studying mechanical engineering as an undergrad, a personal experience led him to discover his passion for medicine. He enrolled at Stanford Medical School, and went on to a residency in general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute. After his residency, he joined the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he worked on healthcare and financial system problems. The most valuable skill he learned along the way: to ask bold questions about medical assumptions.
"Gary Taubes and Peter Attia, co-founders of the Nutrition Science Initiative (NUSI), did a historical analysis of weight-loss studies and determined the science was anything but clear. Now, they’re on a quest to facilitate and fund studies that will definitively answer the question 'What makes us fat?'"
I'll never forget that day back in the spring of 2006. I was a surgical resident at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, taking emergency call. I got paged by the E.R. around 2 in the morning to come and see a woman with a diabetic ulcer on her foot. I can still remember sort of that smell of rotting flesh as I pulled the curtain back to see her. And everybody there agreed this woman was very sick and she needed to be in the hospital. That wasn't being asked. The question that was being asked of me was a different one, which was, did she also need an amputation?
Now, looking back on that night, I'd love so desperately to believe that I treated that woman on that night with the same empathy and compassion I'd shown the 27-year-old newlywed who came to the E.R. three nights earlier with lower back pain that turned out to be advanced pancreatic cancer. In her case, I knew there was nothing I could do that was actually going to save her life. The cancer was too advanced. But I was committed to making sure that I could do anything possible to make her stay more comfortable. I brought her a warm blanket and a cup of a coffee. I brought some for her parents. But more importantly, see, I passed no judgment on her, because obviously she had done nothing to bring this on herself. So why was it that, just a few nights later, as I stood in that same E.R. and determined that my diabetic patient did indeed need an amputation, why did I hold her in such bitter contempt?