MUSC Weight Center Offers Help For Your Weight Problems

It’s well documented that the U.S. has a weight problem, including right here in the Lowcountry.

More than a quarter of all South Carolina adults are overweight, according to 2004 data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The heftiest state is Mississippi; Colorado is the leanest, the study said.

A root cause of this increased girth is a collision of genes and environment, according to Patrick O’Neill, director of the MUSC Weight Management Center.

"It’s not likely scientists will ever isolate a single obesity gene," said O’Neill, who is a clinical psychologist. "But there are a lot of different genetic factors that can contribute to obesity when a person is put in an environment conducive to weight gain."

And what an environment it is: super-sized, high-calorie drinks and food portions, longer commuting times, sedentary jobs, more TV and computer time and a surfeit of laborsaving devices, including the ubiquitous remote control.

"I once heard a woman say, ‘Boy, have times changed! When I was growing up, I was the remote!’" O’Neill said. "It just shows how our activity levels have been reduced over the years."

The MUSC Weight Management Center has been helping people battle obesity for 31 years. Located at 67 President St. in Charleston, a team of psychologists, physicians, dieticians and exercise physiologists offer a multi-disciplinary approach to weight loss.

The center also opened a satellite office on Daniel Island in May. It is located at Carolina Family Care’s Parkwood Pediatrics clinic at 899 Island Park Drive and is currently open every Tuesday afternoon.

"Our core approach is about lifestyle changes," said O’Neill, who has worked at the center since 1977. "We call it ABCDS."

Here are the elements of ABCDS:


Activity Level: Patients learn to maintain a tailor-made exercise program that helps them maintain long-term weight loss;


Behavior: Staff members help patients examine problematic eating, exercise and lifestyle behaviors, and find ways to improve them;


Cognitions or Thought Patterns: Patients learn to identify unproductive thought patterns and replace them with more helpful ways of thinking about their health;


Diet: A registered dietician helps patients design a healthy eating plan that suits their lifestyle and helps ensure long-term weight loss;


Social Support: Since losing weight and growing accustomed to new ways of dealing with food and activity can be difficult, staff provides support.

Depending on a person’s goals and needs, the Weight Management Center has a variety of customized programs available:

First Step

First Step is a 20-week program that promotes gradual yet significant weight loss, primarily through weekly 30-minute meetings. O’Neill said patients receive customized meal and exercise plans. The program also helps them make gradual changes in activity level, eating practices and behaviors to achieve lasting lifestyle change.


This is an intensive 15-week program that promotes larger, more rapid, initial weight loss through individual lifestyle changes.

"It’s a bit more aggressive than First Step and there is usually a little more weight loss," O’Neill said. "We use food replacement products initially such as supplements while promoting a more active lifestyle. Later, we shift to more regular foods and fewer supplements."


This is a more aggressive 30-week program designed for people who need to lose more than 50 pounds, O’Neill said. It combines medically supervised, supplemented fasting with instruction in lifestyle changes necessary to maintain the weight loss.

He said this program is for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI measures the ratio of weight to height. For example, a 6-foot-tall man who weighs 220 pounds would likely have a BMI of 30.

"This program has three phases: supplemented fasting, reintroduction to food and stabilization," he noted. "During the program’s initial phase, participants drink a beverage five times daily as their complete source of nutrition, totaling 800 calories a day. Because this approach is more aggressive, it requires close medical monitoring. Patients are followed weekly and also have group meetings for support."

Research Programs

The Weight Management Center also takes part in medication trials offered by pharmaceutical companies that are studied as possible weight-loss aids.

Corporate Wellness

Work-site weight loss and wellness programs can be tailored for the workplace through the Weight Management Center.

Obesity is a complex medical condition, not a character flaw, O’Neill said. However, many Americans feel it’s OK to openly belittle or ridicule fat people.

"One problem for the obese is that it’s a condition that is widely scorned," he said. "It affects relationships and can lead to a preoccupation with weight that colors their perception of themselves and others. But being overweight does not reflect a moral failing. Unfortunately, it’s hard for people who are not obese to understand what it’s like."

The Louisiana native is a tall, lean man who has authored more than 100 papers and presentations on weight loss. He wrote a column called "Weighing Your Choices" for the Sunday Post & Courier for over nine years. Has he ever had weight problems?

"Not really," he said. "But if I ate as much as I would like to, and exercised as little as I would like to, I could definitely have a problem."

Despite the disappointing national statistics on obesity, O’Neill is optimistic about the future.

"Over the years we have learned more and have seen tremendous success stories," he said. "One very positive change is that studying obesity is now considered a respectable field. That wasn’t always so. It’s now receiving a tremendous amount of attention and there’s a lot of good research going on."

For more information about the MUSC Weight Management Center, call (843) 792-2273 or go to

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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