Obesity and eating disorders expert Denise E. Wilfley, PhD, has been named the inaugural Scott Rudolph University Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The professorship, named in honor of Washington University Trustee Scott Rudolph, was announced by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.
“Obesity and eating disorders are serious public health problems that contribute to thousands of premature deaths, and Dr. Wilfley is engaged in important work to change that,” said Wrighton. “By creating this professorship, Scott Rudolph has enhanced his commitment to Washington University and support of key research in the area of nutrition.”
Rudolph has generously supported the university. He provided a gift to name Scott Rudolph Hall, which was dedicated in 2012. Also that year, Bradley L. Jolliff, PhD, became the inaugural Scott Rudolph Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University. And in 2010, Rudolph provided a $1 million scholarship challenge to support Opening the Doors to the Future: The Scholarship Initiative for Washington University.
Wilfley also is a professor of medicine, of pediatrics and of psychology. The St. Louis native also directs the Weight Management and Eating Disorders Laboratory at the School of Medicine.
“Finding better ways to address the causes of obesity and eating disorders could have a huge impact on society by improving public health, reducing medical costs and enhancing quality of life,” Shapiro said. “Denise Wilfley is a world leader in this field and an excellent choice for this honor.”
Wilfley earned a doctorate in counseling psychology in 1989 from the University of Missouri. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at Stanford University in 1991 and was a faculty member at Yale University and San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego, before joining Washington University School of Medicine in 2002.
“The problems Denise Wilfley is working to solve affect more people each day,” said Charles F. Zorumski, MD, the Samuel B. Guzé Professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine. “More than one-third of the adults in this country are obese, and eating disorders affect more than 13 percent of college-age women and almost 4 percent of men that age. These are growing problems for which we desperately need solutions.”
Over the past two decades, Wilfley has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in studies investigating the causes, prevention and treatment of eating disorders and obesity. Her work documenting the diagnostic and clinical significance of binge eating led physicians to formally recognize the disorder as a psychiatric diagnosis.
She also is using innovative methods involving wireless media to increase the potency and accessibility of interventions, especially among college students — a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to eating disorders.
Because large numbers of adults with eating disorders were overweight or obese in their younger years, Wilfley also studies children with weight problems and has pioneered family-based weight-loss treatments.
“Obesity is associated with a tremendous number of health consequences that affect individuals from head to toe,” Wilfley said. “Early intervention is absolutely critical. As an example, at the age of 8, a girl may need to lose only about four pounds to reach a healthy status, but if she isn’t treated until age 12, she would need to lose 16 pounds to achieve the same goal. That’s why evidence-based treatments are vital.”
An author of more than 200 scientific articles and other published works, Wilfley has been awarded the NIH FIRST Independent Research Award, the Pfizer Visiting Professorship Award at Baylor College of Medicine and the Aubuchon Obesity and Behavioral Health Award. She also serves as an adviser to obesity programs across the country and around the world, and is a key leader in translating evidence-based treatments for weight- and eating-related disorders in the community.
Rudolph is a member of the university’s Parents Council. His eldest son, Michael, received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2013 from the Olin Business School, and his second son, Ian, is a junior in the Olin Business School.
Scott Rudolph is co-chair of the Parents’ Committee for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, and a member of the campaign’s New York City Executive Committee. The Board of Trustees honored him with the Robert S. Brookings Award in 2011.
An important figure in the business of vitamins, minerals and nutritional supplements, Rudolph, while still a teen working out of his parents’ garage, established US Nutrition Inc. Less than 10 years later, that company was purchased by NBTY (at that time a company called Nature’s Bounty), the world’s largest manufacturer and marketer of nutritional supplements, with Rudolph serving as the CEO. His latest venture in the health and nutrition business is called Piping Rock Health Products, LLC.