Lake Oswego doctor is on cutting edge of combating obesity, drug abuse

Dr. Linn Goldberg of Lake Oswego is no stranger to high honors, putting on the Ritz and rubbing elbows with world-class celebrities in all fields of endeavor.

For example, a year and a half ago, he received the International Mentor Award from Queen Silvia of Sweden.

'She's very sweet,' Goldberg said of the woman who inspired Abba's great hit, "Dancing Queen."

Recently, however, Goldberg may have hit the pinnacle of his brilliant when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in Washington, D.C., on May 1. He received the honor from the hands of Drew Brees and Dominique Dawes, co-chairmen of the council and just two of an awesome group of people on hand for the occasion.

The award is described as going to individuals who have greatly contributed to the advancement or promotion of physical activity, fitness, sports and nutrition-related programs nationwide.

No one better fulfills that description than Goldberg, who created the ground-breaking programs ATLAS and ATHENA, which have the potential to revolutionize physical fitness and health in America.

Goldberg has come such a long way since he was a kid growing up in Portland, when he used to wistfully look at Charles Atlas ads in magazines. Only, in his case, he actually succeeded in transforming himself from a 'Before' to an 'After.'

'I knew I couldn't be the tallest and I knew I couldn't be the fastest,' Goldberg said, 'but I told myself, 'By gosh, you can make yourself very strong.' I was lifting weights when no one else was lifting.'

Goldberg became such a macho man that he was able to meet a beautiful young woman named Marsha, who eventually became his wife and the mother of their five children. One of his ways of courting Marsha was by going running with her.

One time they expressed different views on the value of exercise.

'We were talking about exercise,' Goldberg said, 'Marsha said that exercise could help you live longer. I said that exercise could only help you feel good.'

Since that time, Goldberg's view of the value of exercise has greatly expanded and, with his remarkable career, he has been a guiding light for health and fitness for a country struggling with an ever-growing waistline. A recent headline in USA Today blared that America was plunging toward an appalling 42 percent obesity rate by the year 2030. But not if Americans listen to Dr. Goldberg.

It was steroids that marked the a major milestone in Goldberg's life when he was a young doctor establishing himself at Oregon Health and Science University in the mid-1980s. He was stunned to discover that steroids were a serious problem with young athletes.

'There was a young medical student named Eric who used to be a linebacker at Oregon State,' Goldberg said. 'We were talking about steroid use, and he told me, 'I used steroids. They ruined my career. They caused me to have so many muscle tears that I had to give up football."' I said, 'Let's develop a program.'"

Goldberg's first steroid prevention program was shockingly ineffective. Along with his partner, Dr. Diane Elliot, he set up three student test groups. The first only received pamphlets about the dangers of steroids. The second was informed about both the risks and benefits of taking steroids. The third group heard only the bad.

'The coaches told us, 'You're not scaring kids. Why don't you scare them?' The third group only heard about the scary effects,' he said.

But the only one scared was Goldberg after the results of the study came in and showed that participants in the third test group not only did not learn anything about steroid abuse, they had an increased desire to use steroids.

It was back to the drawing board, and Goldberg and his colleagues went on to much greater success. They discovered the key to kids learning about fitness and avoiding drug abuse, and it did not involve hearing well-meaning lectures from adults. It involved forming teams of people in their own peer group and competing with other teams. Called the ATLAS program, it involved 3,200 kids, and the results were downright heartwarming.

'The desire to use steroids plummeted,' Goldberg said. 'And, not only the desire to use steroids, but many other kinds of abuse, too.'

Now, Goldberg was really heading in the right direction, and he went on to help develop ATHENA, which expanded beyond high school athletes. Goldberg put firefighters in Portland and Salem on a fitness program that was so effective that it saved $1,000 in healthcare costs for each firefighter.

Of the team concept for achieving wellness, Goldberg said, 'We think this is a universal behavior change, what you would call a paradigm. Even heart surgeons, who really know what to do, didn't actually do it until they got together and started working as a team. It not only impacts your physical health, it impacts the fiscal health of your business.

'If we become a more vigorous society, starting with kids, it will pay benefits for years and years. It's a national security issue. Obesity is a monster disease, but we can change behavior immediately. It has been pretty much been proven that you can live longer, prevent heart disease and prevent cancer. The right diet can cure a multitude of diseases.'

The fight begins at home, as Goldberg pointed out, 'Oregon is one of the fattest states in the West.'

The solution?

'We want to get people moving,' he said.

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