At 15, Journe Richards’ weight made daily activities uncomfortable and difficult. She was also showing signs of high blood pressure and prediabetes like many children and teens living with obesity. Then, her pediatrician referred her to Levine Children’s Healthy Futures Clinic.

Child Health, Primary Care | one month ago

Healthy Futures Clinic Addresses Childhood Obesity, Changing this Teen’s Outlook on Life

At 15, Journe Richards’ weight made daily activities uncomfortable and difficult. She was also showing signs of high blood pressure and prediabetes like many children and teens living with obesity. Then, her pediatrician referred her to Levine Children’s Healthy Futures Clinic. With the help and support of its clinical team, Journe has regained her confidence and her health. She’s also become an avid tennis player.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 20% of children and adolescents in the United States are living with obesity, which means their body mass index (BMI) is at or above the 95th percentile for their age. This increases their risk for the early onset of adult diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Since opening in 2019, Levine Children’s Healthy Futures Clinic has used a patient-centered, family-based care approach to help over 1,000 children and teens living with obesity, according to its medical director, Lisa Watson, NP. “Our goal is restoring the health of patients like Journe Richards, who entered our program at 16 with a very high BMI for her age,” Watson says. 

A Consequential Epidemic

While the greater medical community has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Levine Children’s Healthy Futures Clinic has kept its eye on what Watson calls “the epidemic of my generation,” which she notes has been worsening for years and has accelerated even more since COVID-19 emerged.

“Childhood obesity increases inflammation, the underlying cause of most diseases,” explains Watson, who started her career as a pediatric ICU nurse before turning her attention to this chronic disease. “There’s not a single body system that it doesn’t affect.” In Journe’s case, her blood pressure and glucose levels were elevated along with her BMI, leading her pediatrician to refer her to the clinic.

In addition to impacting cardiovascular and endocrine health, childhood obesity increases the risk for things like kidney disease, orthopedic injuries, sleep apnea, asthma and even reproductive problems, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, that can lead to infertility.

Children and teens living with obesity also experience higher rates of bullying, depression, anxiety and other psychological issues, according to Watson. For Journe, her self-image took a hit.

A Clinic Focusing on Healthier Futures

Like all patients, on her first visit, Journe spent time with various members of the clinic’s team, each of whom plays a distinct role:

  • Medical providers: Screen for and identify any underlying health conditions that are causing weight gain or are the result of it.
  • Dietician: Educates the patient about nutrition and how to make healthy food choices over the long term.
  • Exercise physiologist: Conducts fitness testing and provides personalized recommendations for physical activity.
  • Licensed clinical social worker: Meets with the patient and family to assess mental health needs, identify basic needs and provide appropriate resources.

At the end of every visit, patients set nutrition and exercise goals for themselves with the help of their clinicians. “It’s very individualized and focused on what the patient and their family are ready for and capable of doing,” says Watson.

Journe found goal-setting very helpful in motivating her to keep going and adding on new goals, she says. Her medical provider at the clinic, Lisa Summers, MD,  discusses Journe’s progress with her at each visit, which initially occurred every one to two months. Thanks to sustained progress, Journe now checks in every four to six months to stay on track.

An Unexpected but Welcome Surprise

Going into the experience, Journe thought the clinic would just tell her to diet and exercise, but “they gave me a whole new optimistic feeling,” she says. “They told me about other patients just like me who were trying to better themselves, which made me feel so much better and less alone.”

Through the support of the clinic, Journe says she has learned to pay attention to the food she puts into her body and balance it with physical activity. She began going to the gym and playing tennis. And now, she’s even joined a tennis team. As a result, she continues to reverse her high BMI, high blood pressure and prediabetes.

According to Watson, that’s the overall goal of Levine Children’s Healthy Futures Clinic. “While weight loss or stabilization is a part of it, our ultimate focus is reducing and reversing the patient’s medical issues and improving their wellbeing,” she says. 

The clinic has been a game-changer for Journe, who says, “I’m so much more confident and can do so much more now.” In fact, she envisions a career as a musculoskeletal radiologist, inspired by all the muscles she now knows are at work while she hits and runs after tennis balls.

To learn more about childhood obesity and the team fighting it at Levine Children’s Healthy Futures Clinic, visit online here.

Additionally, to see if the Healthy Futures Clinic may be a good fit for your child, ask your pediatrician. Need a pediatrician? Find one here.