Obesity and its accompanying health conditions can wreak havoc on the human body, and data demonstrates that obesity rates aren’t trending in the right direction. COVID-19 has also highlighted the overwhelmingly negative role that obesity can have on a person’s health during serious health ailments. People with obesity are an extremely high-risk population for complications and poor outcomes from the virus, which is all the more reason to ensure that physicians are treating pediatric obesity.

Unfortunately, obesity usually begins in childhood and then sticks with an individual throughout the course of their life. This is why tackling the problem in childhood and adolescence is critical. Claudia Fox, MD, M Physicians medical director of the Pediatric Weight Management Clinic and co-director of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine (CPOM), specializes in the condition and the subsequent complications caused by it.

Very often, almost universally, children with severe obesity grow up to be adults with severe obesity. It’s usually with them for their lives, so it’s imperative that we address it while they’re children to minimize the weight-related health problems that are almost inevitable.

Dr. Fox

Obesity is the catalyst for a host of related serious conditions, from hypertension and diabetes to sleep apnea and depression. Experts at CPOM are investigating biological treatment strategies in children and adolescents to nullify future negative outcomes in adulthood. By using medications and surgeries that manipulate biology, they can give patients better outcomes that are more durable and long-lasting.

“Obesity at its core is a biological disease. It’s not a reflection of being lazy or stupid. It’s a disorder of energy regulation that is often inherited in an environment that enables it,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s important to recognize that obesity is a super complex condition. There are biological, psychological, social and environmental factors that all contribute to the expression of the genetics.”

Kids with obesity are frequently marginalized by their peers, and the psychological impact can be exacerbated over time. In addition, children don’t have significant control of their environment and often model their behavior off of their parents or other guardian figures. For this reason, family interventions often work best.

“I don’t think you can intervene too soon. All kids, regardless of their size, need to engage in regular physical activity and eat a well-balanced diet by avoiding fast foods and liquid calories,” Dr. Fox said.

The future of obesity medicine is rooted in viewing obesity as a biological disease while looking to identify which parts of the body, brain and environment are contributing to the disorder of  energy regulation. All of these factors vary at the individual level, forcing clinicians to apply a tailored approach to each person.

We have a world-renowned pediatric obesity clinical and research program at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Our clinical program is comprehensive and provides the full spectrum of care — we’re at the forefront of using different treatment strategies, particularly medications for pediatric obesity. We use our clinical experiences to inform our research that is conducted with the incredible infrastructure of CPOM. And, our research, in turn, informs the advancements in our clinical care. We’re developing the data as we speak with our clinical trials.

Dr. Fox

This research will guide health care providers on which patients would benefit from which specific interventions and at which points in time, giving physicians a roadmap to optimize patient outcomes.  One size does not fit all when it comes to treating obesity.

The University of Minnesota Pediatric Weight Management Clinic is accepting new and returning patients during the pandemic. Additionally, information about referring your patients to clinical trials conducted by the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine can be found here.