Medical Schools Boosting Obesity Education

August 14, 2017


There’s no arguing that obesity rates in the United States are troubling. Fortunately, America’s medical schools are responding in ways that could positively impact patients nationwide.

Since 1980, childhood obesity rates (ages 2 to 19) have tripled, with the rates of obese 6- to 11-year-olds more than doubling from 7 percent to 17.5 percent and rates of obese teens, 12 to 19, quadrupling from 5 percent to 20.5 In the same time period, adult obesity rates also soared. In 1985, no state had an adult obesity rate higher than 15 percent; in 1991, no state was over 20 percent; and in 2000, no state was over 25 percent. Today, however, obesity rates exceed 35 percent in four states, 30 percent in 25 states and are above 20 percent in all states. Nationally, nearly 38 percent of adults are obese with eight percent extremely obese.

Obesity is of top concern to many physicians and patients because it’s a proven contributor to a range of potentially fatal health woes including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea, and some cancers.

That’s why medical schools nationwide are improving obesity education, including increasing the number of courses focusing on weight management. Some have even established obesity research institutes and treatment centers, affording students an opportunity to learn emerging science that they can put into practice during clinical rotations.

“Historically, doctors have been uncomfortable addressing this medical condition,” says Dr. Adrienne Youdim, director of the Center for Weight Loss and Nutrition in Beverly Hills, California who also serves as an associate professor of medicine with the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California—Los Angeles and assistant professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a teaching hospital affiliated with the university.

“This is a problem that is important for all physicians to understand, because it is impacting the majority of the patients that we’re going to see.”

That sentiment applies to medical students aiming to practice most any specialty. For instance, future cardiologists must understand how obesity heightens heart disease risk and future orthopedic surgeons will need to know how excess weight impacts a patient’s knees.  

Medical schools excelling in obesity education and research also can help students identify the many possible root causes or factors in patient obesity by better understanding the patient and his or her lifestyle and life circumstances as a whole. Such schools will offer courses that detail ways in which public policy, epidemiology and economics can contribute to the issue. For instance, a financially-strapped patient living in a low-income or high-crime area may have little access to healthy food or safe, affordable places to exercise.

WOLFPACC also believes in helping students to consider the whole of a patient and his or her life as a total unit rather than focusing on a single presenting sign or symptom. To find out how we can help prepare you for your USMLE or COMLEX exams and achieve exceptional scores that stand out when applying for the Match, call 904-209-3140.