My Summer Internship at the Obesity Institute of Children’s National Medical Center

"When I visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History I ran into this Moai statue. Having just been in Chile, I was excited to see it prominently displayed."

Sophia Blachman-Biatch (WCAS 2013)

Major: Psychology
Minor: Global Health
Certificate: Integrated Communications Marketing
Location: Washington, D.C.

I began in Washington, D.C. at the Obesity Institute (OI) at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) this summer in order to work on the development of OI’s newest program as well as support and learn about some of the other successful existing programs. Over the course of the last couple months I have integrated myself into OI’s collaborative and become a useful part of its structure.

One program I am supporting is Juntos Podemos Start Early Start Right (http://www.childrensnational.org/obesity-institute/prevention-and-wellness/start-early-start-right.aspx). It is an educational program taught for free and in Spanish for Latino families with children ages 6 and younger. It focuses on developing knowledge and skills for healthy eating and active living so that parents can take charge of the health environment of the household. Weekly classes are intimate, educational, and fun both in their structure and their content. The program leader described to me the changes she has seen take place in the participants over the last 6 years that the program has been in existence. Each 10-week course begins with a new set of families who tend to have little to no knowledge of nutrition, but who by the end of the program, are more motivated and educated, so that the caretakers who stick with it consistently decrease their BMIs and learn about nutrition, physical activity, and advocacy. One woman shared how she got whole-wheat pasta to be sold at her local grocer by talking to the owner. Another woman told me about how her child tried watermelon for the first time and now asks for it daily.

OI includes both a treatment arm, where consultations, constant monitoring, diet plans, medications, and bariatric surgeries are combined to deal with obesity and its secondary outcomes as well as a preventative arm focused on community programming. The OI doctors and staff are extremely capable, hardworking, and caring. I have the utmost respect for what they do, especially given the constant uphill battle they face. The following statistics are just a few illustrations of Washington, D.C.’s challenges: Over 20% of children and adolescents are obese (the 9th highest rate per capita in the US), 81% of children do not get USDA’s recommended 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and only about 30% of children follow the CDC recommendation of 60 minutes of daily physical activity. One poignant success thus far in D.C. is the D.C. Healthy Schools Act, which supports many important actions for improving diet, physical activity, and health literacy for district adolescents and children.

Obesity will not be successfully addressed if only medications and medical procedures are employed. It is necessary to combine treatment with preventative actions, through community programing, strategic marketing, and a change of societal expectations regarding healthy living. OI is at the forefront of this change, and I cannot wait to see where we go next.

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