Dell Medical launches initiative to reduce preadolescent obesity among girls

Hannah Williford

Dell Medical School launched an initiative last week to prove short-term intervention can lead to healthier eating habits and prevent obesity-related illnesses in preadolescent girls. 

The initiative is part of a larger UT program, Factor Health, which focuses on improving patient health through lifestyle changes that include healthy eating and exercising. The new program will partner with The Boys & Girls Club of the Austin Area, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and Lone Star Circle of Care, said Mini Kahlon, executive director of Factor Health.

In collaboration with these groups, Factor Health identified target areas where they can improve girls’ health within a six-month period and reduce health care costs, Kahlon said.

“For health care payers … (insurance companies) are really driven by changes that we can make in less than two years,” Kahlon said. “To make the business case, we must start with some of these shorter-term ones, and we believe the evidence is there now, more than there was before … that you can make these changes if you do it right in shorter-time periods.”

Kahlon said the program will have regular checkups with test subjects where they will provide advice on lifestyle changes the girls can make at home. Although there have been mixed results on changing a young person’s health with short-term intervention, other studies on the same issue tend to have more success when family participates, Kahlon said

Although Kahlon said most research done on obesity has been gender neutral, Factor Health decided to focus exclusively on girls because fundamental differences exist between men’s and women’s health. Kahlon said girls tend to gain weight and are exposed to notions of what their health should be during preadolescence.

“With these girls 8 to 11, you’re not going to get much of a change unless the family really comes on board and is excited (and) doesn’t feel like we’re blaming them at all,” Kahlon said. “Often, families don’t engage because they feel like the first thing that happens is they’re made to feel bad. And so (we are) really finding ways that families can … get the support they need for their daughters.”

Social work freshman Nuvia Cruz said she feels families would react to the program differently depending on family history with illnesses, such as diabetes, as well as cultural differences.

“Family is an important factor,” Cruz said. “I’m Mexican. We don’t eat very healthy, so when we grow older, the majority of us suffer from diabetes, obesity, and it’s the same common illnesses found throughout the same culture. … If I were to decide to start a healthy diet, my family would bash that because they would think that I am not grateful for the food they cooked me or I’m not thankful enough for the food that I have.”

Public health freshman Ria Bhasin said instilling good eating habits at a young age is good for children.  

“Especially when kids are just forming eating habits, parents (and) even doctors can emphasize healthy eating, nutritious foods and avoiding fatty foods,” Bhasin said, “(But also) being careful at the adolescent age about body image and making sure that healthier habits are put in place — not shaming the kids for eating specific food.”