When it comes to adopting a healthier lifestyle, nothing succeeds like a little help from your friends—or family.
That’s the idea behind the new University of Minnesota Health Family Weight Management Clinic, which is housed in the Discovery Clinic on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota Medical Center campus. The multidisciplinary clinic, which brings together care providers representing several pediatric and internal medicine specialties, is designed to combat obesity at the level of the family.
“Roughly one-third of kids in the United States are overweight or obese now. Even more alarming—about 4-6 percent of the kids have severe obesity,” said Pediatrician and Weight Management Specialist Claudia Fox, MD, who is the medical director of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital Pediatric Weight Management program. Roughly two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and often when one family member has obesity, so do others.
“Severe obesity brings with it increased rates of diabetes, depression and other weight-related health problems,” Fox said.
To develop a family approach, Fox joined up with Shalamar Sibley, MD, MPH, an endocrinologist with an interest in obesity management, who sees adult weight management patients at University of Minnesota Medical Center.
“The kids I saw weren’t always improving—and that was, in part, because their mothers were also struggling with their own weight status. Some of the moms had even gone through bariatric surgery, but had regained much of their weight,” Fox said. “I realized that for the kids to get better, we really needed the parents to get better.”
Sibley had come to the same conclusion while working with adults after bariatric surgery who were regaining weight. The problem was often bigger than a single individual. In some cases, the problem could be most effectively treated at the family level.
“Claudia and I decided we should provide a multi-faceted approach, because obesity is not caused by a single factor. There are genetic issues, there are environmental issues and there are issues woven into the family structure. If we were going to start solving the problem, we had to start thinking about the family in new ways.”
Fox and Sibley teamed together with Pediatric Psychologist Amy Gross, PhD, BCBA, LP, and other medical professionals, Jessica Graumann, RD, and Allison Johnson, RN, MSN, to start the Family Weight Management Clinic on the University of Minnesota Medical Center campus.
“Obesity is a chronic disease, and we need to look at how families manage it,” Gross said. “How do they communicate with each other about weight management? Do they try to encourage each other to achieve their weight-loss goals? How do they take the recommendations our doctors are making and integrate those into family and school?”
The new approach is seeing positive results: Recently, members of the care team worked with a mother-daughter pair to address weight loss at a family level. The mother had some reservations regarding weight loss because she hadn’t succeeded in previous attempts.
“Today, the mother and daughter have buddied up and are supporting each other,” Fox said. They co-developed a plan that works for them and are equipped with physical activity and food/water consumption charts, and a system of rewards when they hit a certain goal.
“They really have a positive synergy going,” Sibley said.
Success doesn’t always come so quickly or easily, of course, but in general, it can very beneficial to have every member of the family involved.
“Once things start to work for one person, it’s a positive factor for everyone,” Sibley said. “You start to see change in the whole group. The parents become motivated to be good role models, and they feel very gratified and empowered by getting their kids onto the right path for the rest of their lives. You don’t get that in a clinic where you are solely focused on a single individual.”