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The Disease of Obesity


By Martha Vera

Ten years ago, Dr. Leah Whigham founded a center with funding from the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation. Its purpose was to build a strategy to address obesity throughout the Paso Del Norte region and provide support to the many community partners working to address obesity and increase healthy eating and active living.     Dr. Whigham is a scientist who has dedicated her research career to the study of obesity because she recognizes that it is the most prevalent chronic disease and contributes to many other related health problems and diseases.

Today, the Center for Community Health Impact is part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health in El Paso which is located at The Cardwell Collaborative.  The Center has recently opened a state-of-the-art clinic, the El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic, part of UTHealth Houston.

The Center focuses on addressing the Disease of Obesity by building interconnected strategies that address both the causes and contributors to obesity. Causes are biological factors within a person’s body that cause a dysregulation between the amount of calories coming into the body relative to the amount of calories being burned. Examples include hypothyroidism (calories burned goes down) and various types of excessive appetite dysregulation that calorie intake to increase. Contributors are factors in a person’s world that can lead these biological causes to be expressed more severely or earlier in life. An example of a contributor would be living in a neighborhood with no grocery stores and only fast food restaurants, making it difficult to obtain healthy, affordable food. The El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic uses a 3-pronged approach to help people achieve and maintain a healthier weight:

  1. Clinical management – this includes the diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes diseases such as hypothyroidism or sleep apnea.
  2. Nutrition therapy – to lose weight, a person needs to consume fewer calories, but with a strong nutrition approach, the person should not feel starved and the food can still taste good. The clinic’s nutrition approach also helps patients optimize loss of fat over loss of muscle.
  3. Psychological and behavioral support – there are key strategies a person can learn that make the process of losing weight easier and help the person maintain the new behaviors over a long period of time.

About 75% of the population in El Paso has excess body weight. Dr. Whigham and her team started the clinic for 4 reasons: 1) to provide a place where patients in El Paso can have access to state-of-the-art support for achieving a healthier weight using approaches that are backed by science, 2) to provide training for healthcare providers and students in the region so they have the skills and tools to help their patients, and 3) to have the infrastructure to conduct clinical research, making access to new treatment options available in El Paso, and 4) community outreach activities to help El Pasoans achieve healthier weights and live healthier lives.

The El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic is available to help you or a loved one with their weight in a compassionate and supportive environment. Please watch for future articles by Dr. Whigham about the clinic and their program.

If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call, (915) 975-8527. The clinic address is 5130 Gateway Boulevard East at the Cardwell Collaborative Building on the first floor.



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