Curbing childhood obesity one family habit at a time

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“As a pediatrician, I don’t want kids focused on numbers (like those on a scale or calorie counting),” she said. “That can be very detrimental in terms of their mental health and can put them at-risk for eating disorders. I focus on lifestyle habits because that will help to result in better health outcomes across the board.”

Family-centered approach

More than half of all adults living in the District of Columbia are overweight or have obesity, but rates are even higher in East of the River neighborhoods. These statistics remind Dr. Huff why her patients are experiencing obesity and even prediabetes at young ages. “Children live in the context of their family unit,” she said. “They inherit shared family habits, shared physical activity habits, shared meal preparation habits, and shared habits that dictate how we manage or don’t manage stress.” Dr. Huff believes that having a family approach is essential. “I’m treating the whole family, not just the little one.”

Small changes, huge gains

Since becoming board certified in lifestyle medicine in 2019 by the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Huff now has the knowledge, tools, and resources to be more effective when guiding her patients. “There needs to be a lot of support to manage chronic diseases such as obesity,” she said. “Most of the time, parents are struggling with their own relationship with food and are seeing it come full circle with their children. Parental guilt is a real thing.”

Follow @lmhealthequity, ACLM’s Health Equity Achieved through Lifestyle Medicine Instagram, and tune in for an Instagram Live featuring Dr. Huff at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 22.

Debunking myths

Dr. Huff educates her patients so that they have what they need to prioritize healthy habits. In some cases, that means debunking common myths that patients take at face value, such as fruits, vegetables, and healthy eating being more expensive than the standard American diet.

It takes a village

Fortunately, at Children’s National, where Dr. Huff practices, she is able to partner with social work colleagues who can help families navigate their social needs. In addition, she refers families experiencing food insecurity to resources like local food pantries or supplemental nutrition programs. Dr. Huff also guides families on how to take advantage of their health insurance benefits, some of which may offer nutrition workshops and low-to-no-cost gym memberships.

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