Starting Early

toddFall 2012

By Susan Van Dusen

If Samiya Razzaq, M.D., could make one item disappear from every child’s diet, it would be sugary drinks.

“If we can get a child to stop drinking sugary drinks, that’s a success,” she said. And in her chosen field of pediatric weight management, successes can sometimes be slow and hard to come by.

As medical director of the Weight Management Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Razzaq sees patients affected by obesity and the many physical and emotional variables that come with it. The clinic, which is open two and a half days per week, sees about 40 patients each week.

“The issues we face in the clinic don’t just affect the child, they affect the entire family and sometimes even earlier generations. We have to get everyone in the family on board, and that can be challenging,” she said.

Razzaq also is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine.

When the clinic was founded in 2000, it housed just one physician and one nutritionist. After it quickly become apparent that exercise should be incorporated into each child’s treatment plan, a physical therapist came on board, followed by a second nutritionist and a psychologist.

“We’re a multidisciplinary team that works together to help children live healthier lives,” she said.

This includes addressing not only the physical results of obesity, but also the causes behind a child’s weight gain. And it can require convincing some parents that there is a problem in the first place.

“Some people think that weight problems are simply tied to genetics or the belief that their family is ‘big boned.’ I don’t buy it. We can change this situation for a lot of kids just by changing their environment,” she said.

To be seen at the Weight Management Clinic, children must be referred by their primary care physician. At each visit they can expect to spend about two hours with the specialists, including a psychologist who addresses the emotional aspects of overeating.

“Kids can’t control what is happening around them. Things like divorce, bullying or a death in the family can be very stressful, and eating is the easiest way for them to comfort themselves,” Razzaq said.

While children don’t engage in exercise at the clinic, they are taught ways to incorporate activity and movement into their daily lives. Each patient also receives an exercise DVD produced by the clinic.

With patients as young as 2, much of the nutrition and exercise education provided by the clinic staff is aimed at the parents. “Our success rate is dependent on compliance. For children younger than 9, we focus on the parents controlling the environment, but for patients age 10 and up we have to get their buy-in,” she said.

For Razzaq, any child who maintains his or her weight and eliminates sugary drinks is a success story. “These families are facing a complex situation. More often than not, we’re asking them to change every aspect of their lives.”