Stephen Manga (center) with fellow award winners
Before Stephen Manga began studying to become a physician at Eastern Virginia Medical School, he was convinced that health care served one main purpose – to mitigate the progression of diseases. “I believed lifestyle changes were strictly preventive measures, relatively weak mediators of disease progression,” says Manga, “and that a diagnosis of heart disease or diabetes was a guaranteed lifelong condition.”
Those assumptions changed when Manga saw measurable results in his parents’ pursuit of health. After his dad noticed they were “slowing down” in their 40s, he began a search for anything to improve their health. He tried a whole-food, plant-based diet and after his mom joined, to Manga’s surprise, they stuck with it. His mom’s blood sugar dropped out of the pre-diabetic range. His dad lowered his risk for hypertension and hyperlipidemia. They both lost weight and their cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure all dropped to healthier levels.
Their results led Manga to look into Lifestyle Medicine. After reading numerous trials and meta-analyses Manga says he found the research consistently supported “the idea that lifestyle changes could not just halt chronic disease, but also reverse it.” He says this motivated him to also adopt a whole-food plant-based diet, increase his physical activity and prioritize sleep.
The American Association of Medical Colleges named Lifestyle Medicine as an emerging medical specialty with over 2,000 physicians in the United States certified by the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine, with a growing international membership. Interest in Lifestyle Medicine is increasing among physicians and students like Manga. The AAMC defines it as a “medical specialty that uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary modality to treat chronic conditions including, but not limited to, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity.”
To help trainees spread the word, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine established student-led, faculty-supported Lifestyle Medicine Interest Groups. Manga became involved with the LMIG at EVMS where he connected with likeminded students on campus and across the nation and served as co-president 2021-2023. His dedication to the group prompted the ACLM to name Manga as one of only five recipients of its 2022 Donald A. Pegg Student Leadership Award.
“It is humbling to be recognized for this award and validates the work my group and I have done,” says Manga. “It’s also bolstered my motivation to dedicate my life to helping people reverse their chronic diseases.”
The honor also comes with award money which the EVMS LMIG group will continue to use for a wide variety of community outreach events including post-workout smoothies for participants of the Ladies Lifting Session and to create spice rack starter kits as raffle prizes to encourage healthier cooking at home. It will also be used to offer plant-based meals at guest lecture events.
Manga recently worked with EVMS faculty and fellow students to create two presentations about lifestyle change which were implemented into the MD curriculum. One focuses on the effects of diet on cancer risk and the other focuses on lifestyle changes for weight loss.
It is the community-oriented component that drives the shared mission of Lifestyle Medicine Interest Groups and Eastern Virginia Medical School. Through his involvement, Manga says he’s learned how unique communities play an enormous role in health habits and barriers to healthy living. LMIGs provide students with diverse sources and extensive education so that those future providers can equip patients with individualized healthy lifestyle habits.
“Lifestyle habits are extremely difficult to change and often tied deeply to our personal identities, but they are the key to combatting the wave of chronic diseases throughout the world,” says Manga. “Surgeries and medications play vital roles in saving lives, but the biggest strides against chronic disease are made when we as physicians can serve as motivators and as a safe place for patients to explore implementation of lifestyle changes.”