Can We Create Better Treatments for Children with Obesity?

Melissa Santos, PhD, is the Senior Pediatric Psychologist and Clinical Director of the Pediatric Obesity Center at Connecticut Children’s

Can we create better treatments for youth with obesity? That’s the question I want to answer. Recently I was awarded a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), to examine whether a treatment that targets pediatric obesity and chronic pain leads to better outcomes. We know that pain is one of the most common medical conditions that youth with obesity also have.

Did you know that one in five children have obesity? Many have medical complications that are often associated with obesity like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. However, research shows that while weight management treatment can be effective, there is a high treatment dropout rate. We know there are many reasons why families drop out of weight management programming. Sometimes the appointment times don’t work, it’s too far to get to the hospital or you can’t get your family motivated to participate. Research is also showing more and more the importance of moving from a one-size-fits-all approach for treatment to one that takes into account more aspects of the child. That is the goal of my study. My research shows that pain is one of the most common complaints of kids that enter weight management treatment, so we need to figure out how to treat that too.

My colleague William T. Zempsky, MD, Division Head of Pain and Palliative Medicine and Co-Investigator on this grant, agrees. “The idea of co-treating obesity and pain is a unique and much needed area that needs attention,” Dr. Zempsky says. “Youth that I see in my clinic who have both obesity and chronic pain present unique challenges, and I frankly don’t think we are currently meeting their needs.”

We are both hopeful that the results of this study will go a long way to finding additional ways to benefit more youth with pediatric pain and obesity. We still have a lot of work to do to figure out how to personalize and tailor treatments for youth but we are excited about the possibilities of this study.

Interested in learning more or seeing how you can help? I’m looking for a group of teens and families interested in sharing their experiences and thoughts on how to improve care. You can contact me by email at msantos@connecticutchildrens.org

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