As researchers’ knowledge on COVID-19 grows, many have found that those with obesity are more likely to contract the disease and suffer its consequences. Obesity is not new, but defining it as a disease is. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that for children and adolescents aged 2-19 years, the prevalence of obesity is 18.5% and has affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents across the U.S. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations. Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic Blacks (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%). Non-Hispanic Asians (11.0%) had lower obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics.

Aaron Kelly, PhD, co-director for the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine (CPOM) and professor in the Department of Pediatrics, says these statistics are unacceptable. 

"We simply have to do a better job in identifying tools to help all kids achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Since obesity serves as ground zero for countless other serious and chronic diseases, we must aggressively address obesity management if we hope to meaningfully reduce and ultimately eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes broadly,” he said. “Our Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine is at the forefront of investigating innovative treatments for the children and adolescents that need it most."

CPOM provides the resources, infrastructure and synergy to generate new knowledge and drive innovation at the intersection of lifestyle modification therapy, pharmacotherapy, device therapy and metabolic and bariatric surgery (and yet to be discovered therapies) to enhance treatment outcomes for youth afflicted with obesity and related diseases/conditions. 

“A major challenge beyond developing these treatments is getting them to our communities of color who are affected by obesity,” said Claudia Fox, MD, MPH, co-director for CPOM and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics. “We know, for example, that African Americans with obesity are less likely to receive prescriptions for anti obesity medications and are less likely to undergo bariatric surgery, which can dramatically improve health. We have to do better in serving these people.”

Drs. Aaron Kelly and Claudia Fox, along with their colleagues, have paved the way in the emerging field of pediatric obesity medicine. In the context of ongoing and future studies, they are striving to meaningfully increase diversity so that results can be generalizable to all individuals and to foster a culture of inclusion so that all feel welcome.