We recently had a great conversation with Andre Shinabarger, a Physician’s Assistant in Atlanta. She had some great thoughts on the role of medical professionals in the current childhood obesity crisis.
OWG: Tell us a little bit about where you work and what your day to day caseload looks like.
Andre: I work at Dekalb Grady Health Center, which is one of Grady Memorial Hospital’s small neighborhood health centers located in the Kirkwood neighborhood. This family practice is all-inclusive with pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, ophthalmology, and radiology all in one building. Our patients range from no insurance to Medicare/Medicaid to insured patients. We see a lot of patients that have lost their health insurance and have no where to go for their healthcare. It’s an amazing practice run by medical providers who provide incredible care to all patients regardless of race or finances.
OWG: Most of your work is with adults. What are some of the big health concerns that you see related to obesity?
Andre: I truly believe that the obesity problem in America is the root of most of the other medical problems that we see on a daily basis. Obesity contributes to most of the diabetes I diagnose daily as well as high blood pressure, heart problems, even chronic knee and back pains.
OWG: How do you address those things with your patients?
Andre: Sometimes it’s really hard to address someone’s knee pain by telling them they need to lose weight. However, it’s the truth. Yet, there is a sensitivity that must always be involved and an empathy of where each person is at in their life. Many times there are a lot of outside factors that contribute to weight gain; financial, emotional, even psychological. A goal I have is to find the root of what is contributing to their obesity and weight gain (besides the obvious of eating too much food, eating the wrong foods, and not exercising). There is much much more that contributes to this problem.
OWG: You mentioned that you recently attended a seminar on childhood obesity and had some significant realizations from that. Tell us a little more about that.
Andre: Because I see a lot more adult patients then children, I realized that childhood obesity is beginning more and more at younger ages, when children are not the ones necessarily controlling what they do or do not eat. The parents are making the food choices for the child. And what I realized is that by consistently having the discussion with my patients and encouraging them to change eating habits, and get out and exercise more, I am going to be able to impact the children. It encouraged me even more to continue in my daily conversations with mothers and fathers because eventually, and hopefully, the children and the whole family will then benefit.
I also realized that if a patient comes to see me as their medical provider and I do not address their weight or lifestyle issues, then I am essentially telling them they are healthy, and they can continue with their current unhealthy patterns of living. This seminar was a great reminder for me to continue the daily conversations with each and every one of my patients.
OWG: As a busy working mom, what are some personal habits that you’ve developed to stay healthy?
Andre: I am the first to say that it is not easy to find the time to work out and take care of yourself when I am balancing a career and trying to be a good wife and mother. I think one easy way is to do something physically active every day. Whether that is going for a walk, or chasing your kid on their bike. Do something every day!
I also give myself goals to reach so that I don’t become stagnant in my physical activity. I started with running a 5K, then 10K, then half marathon, and last month I ran my first marathon. Setting goals always seems to motivate me to push further than I normally would push myself.
We appreciate all of those medical professionals who are taking bold steps to help combat this issue. If you haven’t had a chance to, check out our new Healthy Clinics Kit!