Increasing the number of physicians who have received training in treating obesity, a complex condition with high costs, is the goal behind a course being offered at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. The Obesity Medicine Focus Course is an intensive, week-long endeavor to increase knowledge of obesity among second-year medical students.
“Obesity is a complex chronic disease which requires a broad therapeutic approach,” said Colony Fugate, D.O., medical director of the OSU Family Health and Nutrition Clinic, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at OSU Center for Health Sciences and co-coordinator of the course. “OSU is at the forefront in teaching obesity medicine. I am unaware of any other obesity medicine curriculum in the nation that is as comprehensive as ours.”
The Obesity Medicine Focus Course utilizes an evidence-based approach to the prevention, assessment and management of obesity. The course is required for second-year medical students as part of a new curriculum implemented by the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2013.
As a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, Fugate works with a multidisciplinary team to offer the one-week course aimed at arming medical school students with the knowledge needed to address one of the nation’s most pressing health care concerns.
According to the most recent “The State of Obesity” report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Oklahoma has the sixth highest adult obesity rate in the nation. For obesity-related health issues, Oklahoma ranks seventh for diabetes and ninth for hypertension.
“Oklahoma has a disproportionate rate of obesity and its complications, including diabetes and heart disease,” said Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS president and dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. “By preparing the state’s future physicians to meet the challenges of this growing epidemic, OSU-COM is fulfilling its promise to be a leader in preventative medicine.”
The American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease in 2013. The American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and the Obesity Society then released guidelines physicians should follow to more actively treat obese patients to prevent heart disease and stroke.
The American Board of Obesity Medicine recently began offering physicians certification in obesity medicine to signify specialized knowledge and competency in the care of patients who are overweight or obese.
OSU-COM’s obesity medicine curriculum provides baseline knowledge of the causes, physiology and epidemiology of obesity. Students learn to assess, manage and monitor overweight and obese patients. Health leaders in the community provide information about how the city, county and state are working together to address obesity.
Second-year medical student Shawna Passman, of Tahlequah, said the course enabled her to better understand the challenges she will face as a physician treating patients who are overweight or obese.
“It equips us with the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct difficult and sensitive conversations with our patients,” she said. “We've learned about the challenges patients face when making healthy food choices, the politics that drive social determinants which contribute to obesity and the medications that promote excessive weight gain.”
Students also get a basic grasp of nutrition science so they can help guide patients to make healthy food choices. The course also examines how intrapersonal factors such as attitudes, culture and policy impact obesity rates.
“In many cases, we are taught how to very effectively treat a disease in progress. This curriculum not only refines those skills, but teaches us to look upstream at the social and environmental factors that may influence generations of obesity,” said second-year medical student Christopher Smith, of Joplin, Mo. “If we can educate our patients with the skills we have learned in this course, we have an opportunity to prevent a multitude of diseases, leading to greater quality of life, a healthier population and decreased costs and strain on an already overtaxed healthcare system.”