Deborah B. Horn, DO, MPH
Deborah B. Horn, DO, MPH

A new interest group at McGovern Medical School aims to connect students, residents, and fellows from the six graduate schools at UTHealth with a shared interest in treating obesity.

The Obesity Health Interest Group (OHIG), sponsored by the UT Center for Obesity Medicine and Metabolic Performance (COMMP), seeks to share knowledge and insight between departments and professionals to spurn more conversations for medical students about treating obesity. Dr. Asritha Srireddy, who is this year’s UT fellow in obesity medicine, said the impetus behind the new group was a desire to foster collaboration.

“We were thinking about how to reach other schools in the UTHealth System,” Srireddy said.

Dr. Deborah Horn, medical director of the UT COMMP, said the interest group is another part of UT COMMP’s mission to give up-and-coming doctors the tools to help treat the disease of obesity, which affects over 70 percent of Americans.. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey said from 2013 to 2014 more than 2 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity. Obesity also substantially increases the risk for other health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea.

In 2016, the UT COMMP launched its new one-year clinical fellowship in obesity medicine, named in honor of the Carolyn J. and Robert J. Allison Jr. Family Foundation and the fifth of its kind in the nation, to prepare those pursuing careers focused on obesity medicine. Having a student interest group is a natural stepping stone to better prepare trainees outside of the discipline and gives the fellow an opportunity to teach and get students thinking about what they can do about obesity, Horn said.

“If physicians look at the data, two-thirds of their patients are going to be struggling with obesity or being overweight,” Horn said. “Whether they go into orthopedics, dentistry, or nursing, we encourage them to come hang out and learn as much as they can.”

There are also challenges within education. While exam providers for the United States Medical Licensing Examination originally felt there were a good number of questions focused on obesity, a subsequent reevaluation revealed that most still weren’t questions related to treating the disease itself, Horn said.

“OHIG is an effort to ask ‘How do we continue to improve education and awareness so that when our next generation of healthcare providers graduate they are better prepared for patients,’ and to help them feel comfortable treating obesity because they understand the disease and its expected treatment outcomes from lifestyle intervention, anti-obesity medications and surgery,” Horn said.

The group is currently scheduled for eight meetings a year, covering topics ranging from innovations in obesity medication, to myths and fad diets, and to understanding pathways in physiology that can go in the wrong direction when patients struggle with obesity. An obesity-focused symposium is planned for April 20, sponsored by the larger collaborative effort between the six UT schools, called the Obesity Health Consortium.  The symposium will also be a cross-school collaboration with guest speakers, demonstrations, and an opportunity for students, residents, and fellows to submit abstracts and present posters.

“The eventual goal for the OHIG is to ignite student interest and for the students to begin to take over an active role leading the group and learn to treat the number one disease in America,” Horn said.

Those interested in participating in OHIG can contact Dr. Asritha Srireddy at Asritha.Srireddy@uth.tmc.edu.